by John Hocevar
June 29, 2009
We spent the last week patrolling the waters of the Mediterranean for illegal driftnetters. The good news is that for the first time, we didn’t find any. (No pirates is good pirates!) Weather was probably a factor, as it was often a bit rough for them to be able to operate. There’s also the Greenpeace Factor – word gets around that we are out looking, so pirate fishermen know their chances of getting away with it are pretty slim – they may just decide not to go fishing.
While these were undoubtedly part of the reason why we didn’t come across any illegal driftnetters in a week of searching, an even better explanation is that the increased controls we have fought for and won in recent years are starting to take effect. Even Italy, which appeared ready to flaunt the drift net ban, reversed their position the day our search began.
This echoed our findings from the previous week, where for the first time in years we encountered no blatantly illegal bluefin fishing. We did see military ships inspecting fishing boats, even sending divers down to look at tuna cages.
There are still some loopholes in the regulations that enable people to cheat. However, Raul Romeva, a member of the European Parliament Fisheries Committee, was on board with us to see firsthand what is going on. Romeva has been instrumental in writing many of the recent regulations, so I have a feeling he will be able to use what he learned at sea with us to close some of these loopholes. Better still, it sounds like he is becoming a champion for marine reserves.
Looking ahead, it is clear that controlling illegal fishing alone will not be enough to protect the Mediterranean, or to prevent the collapse of bluefin tuna. The LEGAL catch, as set by ICCAT, the organization that has failed to listen even to the advice of its own scientists, is high enough to seal the bluefin’s fate.
There is still time to turn things around. First, we need Monaco, the US, and others to ban illegal trade in critically endangered bluefin until the population can recover. This can happen next year, at the meeting of parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Then, we need countries throughout the region to work together to establish fully protected marine reserves. Bluefin spawning areas are a good place to start – in the Med as well as the Gulf of Mexico.
I leave the ship in the morning. I’m going to miss everyone on board, but I made some new friends that I know I’ll keep in touch with for a long time to come. I’ll also miss the ship, and this big blue sea, but it makes it easier knowing that the Rainbow Warrior will be defending the Mediterranean long after I’m gone.
For the Oceans –
John Hocevar and the team aboard the Rainbow Warrior