Fate of Northern bluefin tuna to be decided this week

Feature story - 24 November, 2006
Right now, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) meeting is being held in a Croatian waterfront hotel. Earlier this year the Esperanza and Rainbow Warrior travelled the Mediterranean highlighting the impending collapse of the bluefin tuna population. Now our ship is practically able to attend the meeting of the organization we hope they will at last do something about these vanishing fish.

Rainbow Warrior outside the hotel where this year's International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna meeting is taking place.

Update (25 November):  The Rainbow Warrior is back in front of the hotel with a new banner that reads, "ICCAT: The world is watching you!".  (Open photo.)

So the Rainbow Warrior has been sailing outside the hotel since breakfast flying a banner asking, "Where have all the tuna gone?" 

It is, of course, a rhetorical question.

We already know fishermen are catching more than 50 percent over their legal limit - something even the ICCAT Scientific Committee now confirms.  We know bluefin tuna is being massively over fished.  What we don't know is if governments are going to do anything except talk about it.

What needs to happen

By Sunday, we expect that ICCAT will have decided on quotas and management measures of the northern bluefin tuna fishery in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean for the next four years.

The scientific analysis of the bluefin tuna stock is crystal clear - it's on the brink of collapse.  This year, the 43 attending delegations will either decide to adopt recovery measures... Or they will let large industrial fishing fleets wipe out the last tuna schools in the Mediterranean Sea.

Our job

We're here to remind these delegates of their responsibilities, and the scientific realities of the situation.  They need to know that people are watching, and will hold them accountable for this year's decisions.  In the past, ICCAT has done a sorry job of enforcing the rules.  The rate of illegal fishing in the Mediterranean tuna fishery is among the highest in the world.

This morning most of the delegates dropped their breakfast to watch the Greenpeace flagship sailing in front of large hotel windows, and later on, several other delegates even left the conference room to come onto the terrace and take pictures of our ship.

What needs to be done now

Here's what realistically has to be done to help the bluefin tuna stocks recover:

  • Close the fishery during the breeding and spawning season.
  • Cap the maximum Total Allowable Catch at the level recommended by scientists (15,000 tons per year).
  • Set a new minimum landing size matching the sexual maturity of the species (each fish kept should weigh at least 30kg).

Earlier this week in New York, UN delegates utterly failed in their responsibilities - deciding unregulated high seas bottom trawling can continue destroying marine habitat for at least three more years.

We hope delegates at the ICCAT meeting have a greater sense of purpose.  Because it is almost certain the northern bluefin tuna don't have that long.