From the Seafood Summit in Paris last week, where we were all agog for news of a shift in the French position on bluefin which only happened after we left, I flew to New York for a screening of The End of the Line at the UN General Assembly, organised by the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. This screening was arranged to co-incide with a UN working group reviewing the effectiveness of UN resolution 61/105 passed four years ago that called on states and regional fisheries managers to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems such as sea mounts from deep-sea trawling.
The screening of a 25-minute version of the film was well attended, with some 80 or so diplomats and experts filling the delegates dining room for the screening, Q&A and reception hosted by DSCC. As you can imagine, there were some searching questions, for instance “What can the UN do about over-fishing?” and “What is the attitude to sustainability in Japan?” I attempted an answer and about 50 people departed with a copy of the book on which the film is based.
The audience was greatly fascinated by the announcement, at last, by two French ministers that day, of the French position on bluefin tuna – support for an Appendix 1 listing, a full international trade ban, but with an 18-month delay.
It seemed timely for us, the film-makers, Oceana and Greenpeace to put out a release relevant to the United States, so we pointed out, what few US consumers seem to know, which is that imports of endangered bluefin tuna into the United States for the sushi trade are contributing to the collapse of the population in the Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic. The bluefin that finds its way on to the menus of the New York and LA restaurants that have such poor ratings for sustainability on www.fish2fork.com is more likely to have come from the Med than the US. Official export figures from the European Union, compiled by Roberto Mielgo, one of the major players in our film, show that up to 3,341 tons of bluefin was exported from the EU to the United States between 1998 and June last year. In 2008 the US was a net importer of bluefin, importing 360 metric tons from around the world, notably the Mediterranean, compared with the 266 metric tons that were caught domestically. Such is the value of bluefin - nearly $9 a pound on average - that the total trade in the United States is worth nearly $100 million a year.
I returned to England to hear that frenzied briefings were going on in Strasbourg ahead of a crucial vote in the European Parliament on whether the EU should support Cites Appendix 1 for the bluefin. MEPs came under heavy lobbying pressure from DG Fish which told them that an Appendix 1 listing was an incredibly dangerous precedent to set and might one day be applied to the cod. What disgraceful nonsense. MEPs also had their ears ringing with briefings from the European fisheries inspectorate saying they had the fishery screwed down and could police an 8,000 tons a year sustainable quota imposed under Cites Appendix II, which regulates but does not stop trade. There was a rocky moment for our campaign to save the bluefin when it looked as though this advice would prevail. Then, MEPs realized that the EU was not the only player in the bluefin game and that Turkey, Libya, Croatia, Algeria and the Japanese long-liners in the Atlantic were quite capable of wiping out the bluefin on their own if the Japanese market was not closed. Wise counsel prevailed and a majority of MEPs voted to place the bluefin on Cites Appendix 1, without the 18-month delay called for by France. This will make it difficult for DG Fish, or the Commission, to resist pressure to do the same. The same day as the vote, Italy finally declared for Appendix 1, making it inessential that the conditions imposed by France should apply. The fishing lobby was furious. It is looking more and more as though the EU’s 27 member states might actually go to Doha supporting Appendix 1 for the bluefin. Fingers crossed!
Clover Charles Clover is the award winning Environment Editor of the Daily Telegraph. He is author of several books, including The End of the Line, now a feature documentary film.