Time and tuna are running out

Feature story - 9 November, 2007
You can tune a piano, but you can't tuna fish - at least not in the Mediterranean Sea until stocks recover. We're calling for the complete closure of the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fisheries.

Captive Bluefin Tuna inside a transport cage.Greenpeace is calling on the countries of the Mediterranean to protect bluefin tuna with marine reserves in their breeding and feeding areas.

We've said "Time and Tuna are Running Out," in very large letters on a very large banner, to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT), which is meeting in Turkey this week to decide the fate of Northern bluefin tuna.  They can't miss the message -- the question is whether they'll act to save bluefin tuna from commercial extinction.

Known as "Shepherds of the Seas" the bluefin tuna has been celebrated for thousands of years, and is world famous as a symbol of the Med. Bluefin weigh up to 700 kg, and can reach 3 metres in length. The Greek philosopher Aristotle was fascinated by their incredible migrations.  The bluefin is one of the top predators of the Med's food-chain, crucial to the Med's delicate ecosystem.

But they are in serious trouble. The Med bluefin tuna fishery is worth some US$1bn - in Japan a single tuna can sell for US$ 15,000. But there simply aren't enough bluefin to sustain the world's insatiable appetite. In 1999, we recorded how Med bluefin stocks had declined by 80 percent, and it's getting worse. Rampant over-fishing and pirate fishing is pushing this precious species to the brink of extinction.

We have the solution - marine reserves now

Luckily, we have the solution - a network of marine reserves; areas closed to all extractive uses, such as fishing and mining, to cover forty percent of the Med. This means closing the bluefin tuna fishery - indefinitely, until stocks recover. It may sound extreme, but without bold action the fishery has no future whatsoever.  

Marine reserves will save the tuna, the Med's ecosystem, and ultimately the fishing industry. After all, the fishing industry has a pretty miserable future if there's no fish left to, well, fish...

Come on ICCAT - live up to your name.

Conservation is a key word in ICCAT's title. Sadly, most of its 45 member states, including big fishing nations such as Japan, France, Spain and Italy, are missing this crucial point.

Last year ICCAT came up with a "bluefin tuna recovery" plan so pitiful it makes a mockery of the term "recovery." Instead of listening to their own scientific committee, which set a catch quota (how much fish you are allowed to take) of 15,000 tonnes. ICCAT's "recovery plan" virtually doubled this, allowing a quota of 29,500 tonnes.

ICCAT countries can't even stick to limited rules

The member countries couldn't even stick to that extremely limited agreement. The Med has one of the highest rates of illegal fishing in the world; the bluefin fishery is completely out of control.  In September the European Commission declared the bluefin fishery closed until the end of the year - because EU countries had fished 20,000 tonnes of bluefin - 20 per cent over what they were allowed for the whole year.

In the last two years, the Greenpeace ships the Rainbow Warrior and the Esperanza have documented European, Asian, and North African fleets illegally fishing in the Med. Just a few examples include catching Italian fleets illegally using spotter planes to search for bluefin, a day after the ICCAT regulation banning them came into force. Just after this we found an illegal tuna shipment being made to Spain. The French fished 53 per cent above their quota in 2005, in other words every third fish was illegal. (For more on these scandals, see our "Pirate Booty Report.")

The Med is truly a shared global treasure - and a global responsibility

The Med a global commons, and its protection is our collective responsibility.

And what a shared treasure; rich seagrass meadows and rocky reefs dominate its coastal zone while an awe-inspiring array of seamounts, cold seeps and trenches are found on its seabed. Within these some 10,000 species live, 9 percent of the world's marine biodiversity - all this despite the Med representing less than 1 percent of the word's oceans.

But over-fishing and destructive fishing is steadily eroding this treasure. A network of large scale marine reserves will represent a shift in the balance of human impacts, from damage and harm to protection and conservation.

You can help -- take action now by signing our petition demanding protection for our world's oceans.

Take action

If we want fish tomorrow, we need marine reserves today. Show your support for declaring 40 per cent of our world's oceans as no take marine reserves.

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