The ICCAT tuna summit closes in Paris, failing to protect the bluefin. Where have all the tuna gone? They've been caught.
This year, ICCAT had the opportunity to do two things – rescue bluefin tuna from the edge of commercial extinction and salvage its reputation for inaction. It has now failed on both counts. Once again, ICCAT’s 10-day meeting has resulted in a new fishing quota for bluefin, this time of 12,900 tons – a tiny reduction on last year’s quota of 13,500 tons. Come May, sanctioned by the very organisation which is supposed to “conserve” tuna, destructive purse-seine fishing vessels in the Mediterranean will cast their nets again on this hugely depleted species. Let’s put a marker down here and now – the governments and delegates at this ICCAT session must be noted in history as those people that have failed this magnificent species.
Spare a moment to contemplate just how bad the result is. The quota that governments have given on bluefin tuna is deemed by ICCAT’s own scientists to provide only a 70% chance of recovery. Put another way, that’s a 30% chance of failure. Are these acceptable risks when we are talking about the future of a species?
I have a question for each of the governments who have failed bluefin tuna at this meeting: would you get in an airplane or a car if you were told that there was a 30% chance that you would not reach your target destination alive?
Yet again, the pursuit of short-term profit has won out over the need to protect a species, and our oceans, for the future. This is hardly surprising given the number of fishing industry representatives and fishermen who have turned up here in Paris to lobby for continued fishing.
This conference has sent a bleak message to the world about its inability to reverse biodiversity loss. It is hard to imagine a clearer case for urgent conservation measures than the one for bluefin – the science is clear that the species has been decimated by overfishing. But if our governments can’t even find a way to protect a species like bluefin tuna, how will it find a way to protect the huge numbers of other commercially hunted fish that we know are heavily depleted? It is easy to forget that world governments are committed to fighting the rapid loss of biodiversity from our planet – a commitment recently renewed at the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan.
The Nagoya commitments are now merely fine words that have not found their way to action. And not for the first time this year. When I attended the CITES meeting in Doha earlier in the year, many nations argued against protection for bluefin because they believed ICCAT was the place to regulate the fishery. But when it came to ICCAT, these words once again were not translated into action. And so the ICCAT process turns through another full cycle and the destructive fishing continues.
If there is a future for bluefin tuna, one that is now highly uncertain, it lies beyond ICCAT’s weak decision-makers and secret negotiations. ICCAT had its chance. It blew it. Now we need to find a way to hold fisheries managers and governments to account- publically- in the hope that we can change the way we manage our oceans: for the benefit of the hundreds of millions who rely on them.
Oliver Knowles, an oceans campaigner with Greenpeace International based in London, was the head of Greenpeace’s ICCAT delegation.