Who wants to be a millionaire?
by John Hocevar
June 19, 2009
Patrolling for tuna pirates here in the Mediterranean is a 24-hour operation. My day started with a four AM wakeup call "John! We have found more boats!" but others on the crew had been working through the night. By eight this morning, we had inspected and traded information with nine boats.
Since the official close of the bluefin fishery, we have not been seeing the expensive pure seine boats that we frequently encountered earlier in the expedition. Instead, most of the vessels we see now are small, old, and worn. A couple people said the fishing has been “passable” or “mediocre,” but most have reported that catches have been quite low. One fisherman held up his net to show us his catch, and the fish were so small it reminded me of the “Tiny Fish” video. And as before, we have seen more fishermen who are no longer fishing, but instead towing cages for other, wealthier fishermen.
The cages can be quite large, over 50 yards across, and can hold more than 200 tons of tuna. The cage in this photo held 2800 bluefin. (We call them cages, but actually they are circular nets, supported by floats and plastic supports.) The captain of the boat towing these fish invited us on board for a tour, and at times it seemed that rust was all that was holding the vessel together. The fishermen had been at sea for 66 days, with very little shelter, much less luxuries like flush toilets or comfortable beds.
Back on board the Rainbow Warrior, we calculated that these guys had been towing over a million and a half dollars worth of fish. I don’t know whether or not they realized the value of their cargo, but it was very clear that these guys were not getting much of a share of the profits.
A couple fishermen mentioned that they had been fishing for a long time – one man said he’d been fishing for sixty years. Others said their families had always fished, which I imagined might mean as much as a hundred years or even more. Yesterday, however, I learned that people have been fishing for bluefin in the Mediterranean since before the rise of the Roman Empire. It is difficult for most of us to even imagine that kind of continuity of history, tradition, and culture.
And now, a fish that has been prized – and fished sustainably – for thousands of years has gone from abundance to the verge of extinction in just a few short decades. This is an emergency, and we are here to sound the alarm. We can only hope that our wake up call is enough to jolt the members of ICCAT to their senses, while there is still time. Or better still, to help convince the Obama Administration and other influential governments that the time has come to take responsibility for bluefin management out of ICCAT’s hands, and to bring the issue to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
Stay tuned – we have been hearing reports that illegal vessels are seeking shelter nearby, so we’re on our way there now.
For the Oceans –
Oceans Campaign Director