François Chartier ponders the future of the bluefin tuna
For nearly one month, Greenpeace France activists have been following the French Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Mr. Bruno Le Maire, wherever he goes with our Tunamobile, a Mini with a 2,5 meter beautiful (but artificial) bluefin tuna attached to its the roof. The Tunamobile also has a powerful loud speaker, so that the Minister can hear the bluefin tuna’s mayday call: ”Save me, Bruno!”
The Tunamobile began its journey on 25 October with stops at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Elysée, President Sarkozy’s residents and the French Parliament complex. At one point, the Tunamobile was lucky enough to be just behind the car of Bruno Le Maire, stuck in a traffic jam, the perfect chance for our activists to engage with him.
You may be wondering why we are targeting the French minister. Well, that’s because France plays a key role in the bluefin tuna fisheries, and shares with Spain and Italy the largest share of the quota.
France has a huge industrial bluefin tuna fishing fleet with 17 big vessels. Having supported the CITES listing of bluefun tuna, the French government is now backing off and is only supporting the short-sighted economic interests of a handful of ship owners in the south of France and pushing the European Union for the highest quota possible: the status quo-ta of 13.500 metric tons.
France is a key country for bluefin tuna fisheries management, but it’s not really very progressive on bluefin issues and the French government is not on the same page as the public. Here in France, most people know about the dire situation facing the bluefin: a poll released a few months ago revealed that 75% of French people support a ban on the international trade in bluefin tuna products. The reality is that the bluefin, in France, is an iconic species and it’s clear to everybody – except the Minister of Tuna Fishermen Le Maire that strong action needs to be taken to protect the “thon rouge” as we call it in French.
Another shocking French bluefin scandal is that in 2007, French fishermen fished over 100% of their annual quota, so according to ICCAT and EU rules, they have to pay back this tuna. This payback started this year: they were ordered to catch 500 tonnes less tuna and next year and 2012 they will catch 1.500 tons less. There is a risk that French vessels will have to stay in port next year- since their quota will be too small to merit any large-scale fishing at all.
Of course, France tried to negotiate some delays in this payback. This is unacceptable. France, like everyone else, should play by the rules- trying to negotiate delays in righting their wrongs sends a very bad signal for the bluefin, for our Mediterranean and for us French people.
France must use this situation as an opportunity to support a full closure of the bluefin fishery and not support only the narrow interests of the tuna fishing vessel owners.
On 26 October, the Tunamobile was in front of the European Council building in Luxembourg, where a Fisheries Council meeting was taking place. The EU Member States were discussing the European mandate for the next ICCAT meeting in Paris. The Tunamobile was there to urge all of the governments meeting there to save the tuna, not the fishing industry’s profits.
Clearly ignoring the commitments made at the recent meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, the EU committed to restore the health of the bluefin stock before 2020. The French government continues to support a status quo for the next year quota for BFT.
On 10 November, we blocked the main entrance of the fisheries ministry building in Paris with our Tunamobile and activists were chained inside the car and to the roof.
It was a good opportunity to again tell the Minister directly that the only way to save the bluefin and the bluefin fishing industry is to close the fishery and protect the species’spawning grounds.
On Friday 19 November, the official opening day of the 17th ICCAT meeting in Paris, the Tunamobile was once again on the scene. After being blocked by French police, we were finally able to park the Tunamobile directly in front of the conference center. As the Tunamobile was being parked, 4 activists unfurled a big banner with the message “Bluefin Tuna: 8 days to live.”, referring to remaining days of the ICCAT conference before a decision is taken on the quota for the coming years.
The ICCAT meeting will run until 27 November. In the hands of the government officials is the future of the iconic bluefin tuna. France is hosting this meeting and must do everything in its power to prevent yet another failure of ICCAT. One thing is clear, though: Greenpeace with the Tunamobile will remind the French government and all ICCAT countries that the bluefin’s future hangs in the balance.
François Chartier is an oceans campaigner based in the Paris office of Greenpeace France.
Pas de jour "off" pour sauver le thon rouge !
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