The latest from Willie Mackenzie - UK oceans campaigner in the Med.

There’s an analogy I sometimes use to explain the problem of overfishing.

Imagine you are in a car hurtling at full speed down a hillside towards a cliff. Your foot is fully down on the accelerator. You have four options. Keep the foot down and plunge to your certain doom. Slam on the brakes and try to stop before you reach the cliff. Take your chances and jump out of the moving car. Or take your foot off the accelerator and just hope you slow down in time.

In Atlantic bluefin terms, what needs to happen is the brake-slamming option. That’s pretty obvious to most people, just not the people in charge of the fishery or the quota-setting. What we have instead is that internationally the bluefin-fishing countries have agreed to gently ease off the accelerator, and see what happens. It doesn’t look good from where I’m sitting. Italy, meanwhile, has chosen to jump out of the car. It remains to be seen whether they made it safely.

Last Sunday there was an emergency inter-sessional meeting of ICCAT bluefin-fishing nations in Barcelona, called by the newly self-appointed saviours of the bluefin, Japan. Lucky them I say, Barcelona is a great city. What can we expect from this meeting? Well I expect we’ll hear very little of substance, but a lot of self-congratulating between countries on just how serious they are taking things, and isn’t it good that they are taking scientific recommendations seriously now?

For Joe and Joanne Public, these people are meeting at our tax-paying expense, most probably to congratulate themselves for doing as little as possible. It’s a no-brainer that the science should be taken seriously, but that is not what ICCAT and its member countries have done. To them the science has been an excuse to squeeze the biggest possible quotas, which of course were then topped up by illegal fishing too.

ICCAT have instead presided over, and sanctioned, the rampant overfishing of Atlantic bluefin. Even this Damascene conversion (such as it is) is too little, too late. They have ignored the warning signs, and just ploughed on.

Today, out here on the Mediterranean, the seas are still far too rough for fishing bluefin. With just over two weeks left of the purse-seining season that will be making the fishermen sweat. Let’s just hope that the Barcelona meeting is not used as an opportunity to extend the fishing season because of the unseasonable weather… but surely our governments can’t be that out of touch, right?

Meanwhile, anyone using the analogy on the other side of the Atlantic would have to factor in that the hillside was covered with millions of gallons of oil – thereby rendering none of the options very hopeful.

-- Willie


Image: Rainbow Warrior in the Med. Copyright Paul Hilton/ Greenpeace