Tuna trouble

Feature story - 25 June, 2006
Alex here, reporting in from the Esperanza. Over the past month our ship has travelled through the Mediterranean, from the Balearic Islands to the south of Turkey. We were there to find out just how bad the state of the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery is.

Overfishing of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean may be leading to collapse of the population.

We've followed some of the most important fishing fleets in theregion.  The news isn't good.  We spent a week with Spanish and Frenchfishermen in the waters north of Egypt.  In the entire time, not asingle tuna was caught.  We waited with them to find tuna.  We saw themstanding with empty nets.

Insouthern Turkey, fishermen are reporting lower catches and smallerfish.  They've only been fishing intensively in the region for fiveyears, and already they are seeing the effects.   The fishermen areworried, and so are we.  All evidence points to the desperate state ofthe fishery for the whole region.

In May, we issued a reportdetailing the problems facing bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean.  Ourresearch found that up to 45,000 tonnes of tuna is being caught everyyear - as much as 13,000 tonnes (29 percent) over the legal limit.  How is this possible?  As we discoveredby speaking to fishermen, it's a combination of underreporting,quota-swapping deals between countries and general mismanagement.

Greed before science

TheInternational Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT)allocates fishing quotas to different Mediterranean countries.  Thelevels that they allocate are already over what scientists recommend. Most countries don't have data on what tuna their ships catch, and ifthey do it's frequently underreported.  Large fishing fleets areencroaching on tuna breeding and feeding areas.  High-tech fishingpractices, sometimes carried out illegally, leave no chance for thefish.

Tuna fished out of the Mediterranean are towed in cages totuna ranches in the region.  Once they're in the cages, these seagiants are swimming sushi. The intensive fish farms pollute the localcoastline, and are incredibly wasteful.  It can take up to 20kg of baitto produce 1kg of tuna.  This bait is less marketable fish brought into feed them from other regions, and it can bring new diseases with it. 

Literally, a race to catch the last fish

TheMediterranean tuna ranches are in the hands of a few key investors. This story is a classic example of short-term gain for long-termdamage, and the major players are not the fishermen who've been fishingtuna sustainably in the region for thousands of years.

There's ageneral pattern collapse of fish populations, like the cod and Westernbluefin tuna, where fishing increases and methods become moresophisticated as catches go down.  It looks like Mediterranean bluefintuna are going the same way. 

What we know now

"Amonth ago we asked the question: Where have all the tuna gone? Well,now we know the answer - we may be witnessing the collapse of thebluefin tuna stock from the Mediterranean Sea," said Sebastián Losadaof Greenpeace Spain aboard the Esperanza.

We are calling on thecountries of the Mediterranean to protect bluefin tuna with marinereserves in their breeding and feeding areas. They would become part ofa global network of marine parks across 40 percent of the world'soceans that are needed to give the oceans a chance to recover fromdecades of large-scale industrial exploitation.

The Esperanza iscontinuing its global Defending Our Oceans tour.  From here we headinto the Red Sea, but our sister ship, the Rainbow Warrior willcontinue the work in the Mediterranean.  

Read updates from the Rainbow Warrior.

Esperanza crew weblog.

Sign up as an Ocean Defender.