Rainbow Warrior vs. Bluefin Tuna Pirates

by John Hocevar

June 16, 2009

Greetings from the Rainbow Warrior!

We are out in the southern Mediterranean, working to prevent the extinction of bluefin tuna.  I joined the ship in Malta, and we have been patrolling the fishing grounds between Malta, Tunisia, and Libya since yesterday.  There are quite a lot of boats in the area, which is itself a big part of the problem – too many boats chasing too few fish. 

rainbow warriorBluefin are critically endangered, but continue to be sold in trendy high-end sushi restaurants like Robert DeNiro’s Nobu chain.  Bluefin stocks here in the Med and in the northern Atlantic are (mis)managed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.  ICCAT consistently ignores the advice of its own scientists, making a mockery of the “conservation” that is ICCAT’s middle name.  Catch limits for this year were set at nearly double the levels recommended by ICCAT scientists to enable the species to recover.

The US Government is a member of ICCAT.  While the US role tends to be a positive one, it has so far been willing to go along with ICCAT’s mad rush towards extinction for one of the most remarkable creatures in the sea.  Weighing as much as a car, the warm-blooded bluefin is still capable of maintaining speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. 

This year, the big question is whether the US will seek to ban commercial trade of bluefin by proposing it to be listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or whether it will continue to leave matters in the corrupt hands of ICCAT.   We’re out here confronting illegal fishing, and compiling evidence which we will share with relevant US and ICCAT authorities.

Things can get a bit tense, as the declining fish populations have created a sense of desperation among many fishermen here.  In 2006, French tuna boats blockaded the Rainbow Warrior in Marseilles.  Last year, Turkish tuna fishermen attacked the Arctic Sunrise, disabling our helicopter with lead weights. 

In reality, however, the measures Greenpeace is proposing may well be the best chance to save the bluefin AND the fishery: creating marine reserves to protect vital spawning areas, adhering to scientific recommendations, and closing the fishery until the species can recover.  Stay tuned, and I’ll keep you updated from out here on the front lines.

For the oceans,

John Hocevar
Oceans Campaign Director
Greenpeace USA

John Hocevar

By John Hocevar

An accomplished campaigner, explorer, and marine biologist, John has helped win several major victories for marine conservation since becoming the director of Greenpeace's oceans campaign in 2004.

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