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Could bluefin tuna fisheries be closed?

by Guest Blogger

November 12, 2009

Willie, from Greenpeace UK, blogs from Brazil, where he is attending the ICCAT meeting.

So, here in Brazil, the game is on. At the end of yesterday’s session the parties around the table at the ICCAT meeting were asked what their priorities were for conserving bluefin tuna. One by one they made positive murmurings about wanting to ‘follow the scientific recommendations’, and enforce compliance with them. They all pretty much said they want to see illegal fishing tackled. No rocket science there, and you would be forgiven for wondering why they have not done those things already!

More importantly there were also some hints as to how low some countries would go in terms of a quota, with several actually suggesting the possibility of closing the fishery. To you and me that may be a no-brainer. To many of them, it is a seismic shift.

ICCAT meetings

Now, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves here. There is a lot of horse-trading to be done behind closed stable doors. And it’s worth noting that the talk about closing the fishery is just for one year – which could well be a very convenient way of avoiding bluefin being subject to an international trade ban under CITES.

Greenpeace, and other conservation organizations here, won’t settle for that – and we are reminding the participants at ICCAT that the only credible thing they can do is close this fishery.

And it seems they desperately want to regain some credibility here. You can understand that, after all ICCAT was branded an ‘international disgrace’  by an independent review. The spotlight is on them because of what they have allowed to happen to bluefin, and the bureaucrats who attend these meetings really don’t like that. Delegate after delegate has talked about the need for ICCAT to claw back credibility, conveniently ignoring that this is a situation their own bad judgement in the past has gotten them into.

From an observer’s point of view here there is much to be cynical about. This is a dysfunctional meeting in a tropical paradise, at a resort whose very construction has caused disruption and problems for the local coastline in Brazil, with gala dinners, cocktail receptions, and a self-congratulating bunch of faceless bureaucrats mismanaging species, fisheries, and livelihoods.

Yesterday was an eye opener, with some impassioned and stirring interventions (particularly from some of the African delegations) requesting stronger action to protect stocks of fish in their waters. At several points I wanted to stand up, cheer and applaud. But those heartfelt pleas were met by some cynical process point-scoring by delegations on the other side of the table, immediately filling me with despair.

There is still a long way to go here.

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