I’ve been in Paris for just under two weeks attending the 17th annual ICCAT meeting – a gathering of the fisheries managers who decide fishing quotas on bluefin tuna and other species in the year ahead. Every day, I walk the short distance from my hotel, enter the doors of the Marriott conference centre and disappear into Planet ICCAT for (at least) 8 hours.
Inside the conference centre, delegates from countries around the world debate and ultimately will decide on measures to regulate fishing. There are also a huge number of representatives from the fishing industry here observing. In theory, the government representatives here should be acting to protect fish populations. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different: best illustrated by the case of Atlantic bluefin tuna. Scientists agree that stocks of this incredible fish have been decimated by years of overfishing. Over 80% of the stock may already be gone and some believe that number to be even higher. Around the world, governments, scientists, environmental advocates and members of the public have been calling for urgent action to avert the bluefin’s disappearance: an environmental tragedy in the making. None of this urgency seems to have found its way to Planet ICCAT.
Inside the conference centre this year the discussion and debate continue. But where is the action? ICCAT’s track record is abysmal. It has for years ignored the advice of even its own scientists, setting previous years’ bluefin catch quotas way above the recommendations for sustainable catch levels. This must not be allowed to continue for the simple reason that it risks taking the species to commercial extinction.
Planet ICCAT might be a better place if it allowed others in to report on its discussions and decisions. Given that ICCAT is in the important business of safeguarding species from disappearing from our oceans forever, you might think it appropriate to allow journalists or even members of the public inside to watch and record its progress. But no. The doors closed on planet ICCAT two weeks ago – journalists are not allowed in to the meeting and observer organisations risk losing their access if they report on the details of the discussions. The doors are closed until the decisions are made public and the meeting is brought to a close. Even inside the conference, it is very difficult for observer organisations like Greenpeace to follow the real discussions – because most of the sensitive and important negotiations are taking place in private meeting rooms that we do not have access to.
This startling lack of transparency must end. It is time for ICCAT to open the doors so that the public can come and see which countries and delegates sit and argue for continued destructive fishing.
ICCAT is now in its final days. Tomorrow, we will hear the outcome of the discussions on a new quota for bluefin tuna. This year and for several years, Greenpeace has been lobbying hard for the fishery to be closed. But the lack of urgency on Planet ICCAT combined with its lack of transparency mean that another year of destructive fishing for bluefin tuna is likely.
Oliver Knowles is an oceans campaigner with Greenpeace International based in London.