Disaster for bluefin tuna at CITES meeting

Feature story - 19 March, 2010
Governments have completely failed to pull bluefin tuna backfrom the brink of 'commercial extinction': it would have been so easy, listen to the scientists, witness the failure of the exiting management group, and agree to protection under CITES - Convention for the Trade in Endangered Species. Instead they allowed the largest tuna consuming nations undermine a vote that would have seen bluefin listed under Appendix I.

Captive Bluefin Tuna inside a transport cage.

A stupid and short-sighted decision

Is this it? A quick vote and tuna is forgotten? There is no lack of evidence that bluefin tuna is being endangered by the very fisheries management body supposed to save it. Yet, vested interests have been allowed to put an entire species on the way to extinction. The governments who voted against the Appendix I listing for bluefin tuna did not have their people's interest in mind. Short-sighted decisions like this show a definite lack of concern for the species' well-being and, to be blunt, stupidity.

We thought the tragedy of the cod fishery in Newfoundland would have been a lesson kept in mind. It appears, though, that not only are the governments responsible for overfishing bluefin tuna unable to look to the future, they can't even remember lessons from the past.

"The failure of countries to support proper protection for Atlanticbluefin tuna means business as usual for those whose only interest inthe species is short  term profit," said Oliver Knowles, from our Oceans team at the meeting. "It is an own goal by Japan. By pushing for a few more years of thisluxury product it has put the future of bluefin, and the future of itsown supply at serious risk."

On the brink of exctinction

There is no question bluefin tuna is in serious trouble. In 1999, we showed how in the Mediterranean bluefin tuna stocks had collapsed by 80 percent. Ten years later, scientists found that the population of Atlantic bluefin tuna is below 15 percent of what it was before commercial fishing began. 

This sorry state of affairs is a combination of ever-growing demand for bluefin on international markets and atrocious management of the species. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the management body responsible for Atlantic bluefin, has repeatedly ignored the advice of its own scientists and failed to tackle overfishing and pirate fishing of the species. ICCAT couldn't manage its way out of a paper bag, and has been deemed an 'international disgrace' by an independent review.

It is outrageous that a species has been (mis)managed to the brink of exctinction. Is this the best that modern fisheries management can deliver? To have abused a species so badly that it now faces commercial exctinction is a damning indictement on modern fisheries management.

It's a message that many have already heard. Top Michelin starred French chefs have taken bluefin off the menu. Joanna Lumley, Ted Danson, Alan Rickman and among many famous names that recognise bluefin is now as endangered as rhinos are - and deserves the same protection.

What's left to do?

What now? This might have been the last chance fo bluefin tuna. One glimmer of hope remains, however. Greenpeace campaigns for a network of marine reserves to be established on 40 percent of the world's oceans. Such a network could protect essential spawning grounds and give species like bluefin tuna a life-saving break. After today's CITES decision more than ever, if we want fish tomorrow, we need marine reserves today.

Take Action

There's one last glimmer of hope for bluefin tuna: sign our petition for a global network of marine reserves.

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