Pirates of the Mediterranean

Leg four of the Defending Our Oceans expedition begins

Feature story - 24 May, 2006
Careful me hearties, the Esperanza soon be sailin' in waters infested by tuna pirates. No these don't be swashbuckling fish. These be humans plundering the bluefin tuna - treasure of the Mediterranean!Pirate talk aside, the fate of Mediterranean bluefin tuna is a dire one. Over the past 20 years the population (biomass) of adult bluefin tuna has decreased by 80 percent. Today, catches exceed the legal quota by more than 12,000 tonnes (37 percent), including huge numbers of juvenile tuna caught every season before they reach breeding age.

Greenpeace report: "Where have all the tuna gone?"

Tuna ranching to blame

Most of the bluefin tuna caught are put into cages, where they are fedsmaller fish.  It takes up to 20 kilograms of feed to produce onekilogram of tuna, and the waste feed and faeces pollute the surroundingwaters. After some months in the cage, the fish are harvested andprimarily exported to Japan.

Tuna "ranching", as this industry is called, is relatively new to theMediterranean, but has expanded rapidly due to foreign investment andgovernment subsidies.  In fact, European Union subsidies to thetuna industry have been as high as  $34 million over the lastdecade.

We now have a situation where the total capacity of the bluefin tunaranches in the Mediterranean is 51,012 tonnes - 60 percent more thanthe Total Allowable Catch set by the international regulatorybody.  This creates a market incentive for illegal fishing, and aliteral race to catch dwindling stocks.

The Esperanza

Today we are holding a press conference onboard the Esperanza inBarcelona, Spain.  Joining us at the press conference is an expertfrom the World Wildlife Fund, whose soon to be released studydocumenting the real blufin catch volume is expected to confirm theseverity of widespread illegal tuna fishing.

Next, the Esperanza sails for the Balearic Islands - breading groundsof the bluefin tuna.  On this, the fourth leg of the Defending OurOceans expedition, we will expose the tuna fishing pirates, celebratethe huge amount of biodiversity still remaining in the MediterraneanSea and push for solutions to the threats facing it.

Just as a network of marine reserves is needed world wide, a network ofmarine reserves in critical areas like the bluefin tuna breading groundis needed in the Mediterranean.  These would help ensure thelong-term stability of the bluefin tuna population, as well asprotecting overall marine biodiversity.

For more information see the report released today: "Where has all the tuna gone?" (Full report, Executive Summary).

Sign up to help

Take part by becoming an Ocean Defender.