Dead tuna heads for deadbeat tuna managers

Feature story - 17 November, 2008
What does it take to get the governments responsible for the imminent collapse of the East Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery to wake up and do something? What about a mock "Pirates of the Mediterranean" poster of the responsible ministers in pirate gear in The Economist? How about more than 10,000 emails? OK, how about several tonnes of dead tuna fish heads dumped on the doorstep of the French fisheries ministry?

Dead tuna heads for deadbeat tuna managers.

Our activists today dumped some 5 tonnes of dead bluefin tuna heads in front of the French Fisheries Ministry in Paris in an escalating effort to demand the closure of Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery before it closes itself -- by collapsing.

The action was timed to coincide with the opening of the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), in Marrakech. Tuna populations in the Atlantic and Mediterranean fall under the 'management' of ICCAT, a body made up of government representation from 45 countries plus the European Community.

Don't shoot the messenger

Earlier this month, we ran an ad in The Economist and the European Voice -- with the help of donors in Italy, France, and Spain -- which singled out the Fisheries Ministers of those three countries as bearing heavy responsibility for the state of the bluefin tuna fishery. The caption to our "Pirates of the Mediterranean" poster read: "The bluefin tuna fishery in the Mediterranean is on the verge of collapse.  These three ministers were supposed to safeguard its future.  Instead, they've let the fishing industry plunder an irreplaceable treasure. If they don't close the fishery immediately, someone ought to make them walk the plank."

We used the image as an E-card to the ministers as well, with versions in Spanish, Italian, and French being sent and totalling more than 10,000 appeals.  The ministers are receiving snail-mail postcards of their piraty faces as well.

France's leading role in the collapse

France is currently holding the EU presidency and has been using it to shape the EU position in favour of the short term interests of the fishing industry above the need to save the bluefin tuna stock from collapse -- a pattern that's held for years now as quotas have been regularly set well above the recommendations of ICCAT's own scientific committee -- to the point that many scientists are now openly warning of  the high risk of fisheries and stock collapse.

An article in The Economist this week quotes Raül Romeva, a green MEP from Spain, as saying that the Community Fisheries Control Agency's report on the state of the fishery has been sanitized and supressed, because its contents are so embarassing.

In 2006, following years of extremely high levels of pirate fishing, ICCAT agreed a bluefin tuna "recovery plan" that set a 'Total Allowable Catch' of 29,500 tonnes for the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea. ICCAT's own Scientific Committee recommended a sustainable limit of 15,000 tonnes. But those limits have been ignored. The very same scientists have estimated that actual bluefin tuna catches were about 61,000 tonnes in 2007.

"Time and tuna are running out," said Greenpeace International Oceans Campaigner François Provost, who is attending the ICCAT meeting.

"ICCAT has got it all so wrong - its so-called recovery plan is in tatters, the fishery is completely out of control and spawning grounds are being emptied out every year when they should be protected."

Close the fishery now

ICCAT should close the bluefin fishery immediately. It should not re-open until:

  • Marine reserves have been established to protect all the species' spawning grounds;
  • Fishing capacity has decreased to sustainable levels;
  • A new management plan in strict compliance with the scientific advice has been adopted and is being properly enforced.

Unless serious steps are taken at this week's meeting, those countries who are members to ICCAT will bear the blame for managing the collapse of one of the most important and profitable fisheries of our time, and the destruction of a way of life for the fishermen of the region.

Greenpeace is campaigning for a global network of fully protected marine reserves covering 40 percent of our oceans as an essential way to protect our seas from the ravages of climate change, to restore the health of fish stocks and protect ocean life from habitat destruction and collapse.

Take action

Call for the closure of the bluefin tuna industry now -- before it closes itself by collapsing.


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