EU fails Mediterranean tuna, UN fails deep-sea life

Feature story - 29 November, 2006
Despite warnings of the collapse of bluefin tuna stocks, the commission set up to supposedly protect them recently agreed a fishing quota of nearly twice the scientifically recommended level. This news comes hot on the heels of the failure of the UN to protect deep-sea life from high seas bottom trawling, also against overwhelming scientific advice. Are the mechanisms of marine protection failing us?

The Rainbow Warrior in Croatia during the meeting being held in Dubrovnik.

This week the European Union, led by France and Italy, torpedoed attempts by the United States to properly regulate the number of  tuna caught each year, during the International Commission for the  Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) meeting. (ICCAT was also known  by the Rainbow Warrior team as "I Catch Crazy Amounts of Tuna".)

The EU Commission even failed to agree to stop fishing during most of the spawning season. In an almost humourous moment, they called this a "recovery plan".

Profits and pirates

Our Oceans Campaigner Sebastian Losada points out how crazy it is.   "The Mediterranean tuna fishing industry wants to keep running their  business as if nothing is happening. They are wiping out the stocks  and destroying their own futures. The European Community has now  given them license to wipe out one of the most valuable fish in the  Mediterranean. It is predicted that within a few years the bluefin tuna will face extinction".

In addition to ignoring the science, EU officials also blocked  attempts to stop pirate fishing. In essence, the  European Union has sided with the criminals, in this case the French and Italian tuna mafia.  Bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean suffers from one of the highest rates of  illegal catches in the world.

RFMOs - Regularly Failing  to Manage our Oceans

The state of the bluefin tuna fishery in the Mediterranean is yet another clear example of governments and Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RMFO) failing to guarantee the sustainable  management of the marine resources they claim to be responsible for.  The same pattern can be seen when you look closely at any one of the 35 RMFOs currently in place around the world.

This all gets particularly scary in light of the results of last  week's UN negotiations on high seas bottom trawling.  The result was particularly dissapointing -- governments came really close to making what could have been a reasonable deal, only to be blocked at the elevnth hour in the dead of night - literally!  There are only 5 RFMOs that can take measures  to protect deep-sea life and they only cover one quarter of the high seas.  Their record of protection is particularly bad, yet this year again, states championed RFMOs as the answer to the world's fishery problems.

Bottom trawling - about the short-term bottom line

Little wonder some of us have changed the acronym RFMO  (Regional Fisheries Management Organisation) to 'Regularly Failing  to Manage our Oceans'. Even more worrying is that with Iceland  leading the charge, the negotiations in New York completely failed to regulate the 75 percent of the high seas where no RMFOs that regulate bottom trawling currently exist. This means that countries are left  to monitor their own vessels -- which is what they are supposed to  do already.  It's not hard to see that countries with influential  fishing industries more focused on the short-term bottom line than  the longer term health of our oceans feel that they can go out and  fish as much as they want and can keep doing just that -- because so far, nobody is stopping them.

Fisheries crisis, management failure

Despite a recent scientific report indicating that based upon  current trends, most commercial fisheries could be in a state of  collapse by 2048, the harsh reality is that  the political  mechanisms designed to protect ocean life and ensure sustainable use are failing left, right and center.

The decision-making is biased so that those with the most money at  stake in a particular fishery can keep blocking conservation and  management measures regardless of scientific or majority opinion.   Making matters worse, the process is so untransparent that only those with interests in the fishery have the right to know what is going on.  While this is the case, we have very little hope of  reversing the current crisis facing our oceans.

Governments: Notice is hereby served

But there are two other things that governments will have learned  from the meetings in New York and Dubrovnik: we are watching, we are  bearing witness, and we will not let the plunder of our marine  environment go by unnoticed.

To those who think they have won at  both meetings, notice is hereby served: the global community has  woken up to the current state of the world's fisheries. Momentum is building for change.  Business as usual may have its place for one more year in the Med, and high seas bottom trawlers may be able to  avoid regulation in the high seas for just a bit longer.

But there  is a sea-change on the horizon and we believe that sooner rather  than later, the interests of these fishing states are going to be challenged.  Challenged because there will simply be less fish.  And  challenged because more and more countries, scientists and citizens  are not going to stand for this mismanagement any longer. The world's governments must wake up to this fact and ensure that RMFOs are fundamentally changed.  They should stop looking after the  interests of only those who make money from fishing in the  short-term, but also the interest of the fragile ecosystems and the  benefits sustainable use will bring in the long term.

Defending Our Oceans

We will be there every step of the way.  We are not defeated.  It may take a bit longer than governments want to admit -- and we hope that  they will act sooner rather than later, but Defending Our Oceans is  what we do and we are not about to stop now.