A bad week for bluefin tuna and sharks

bluefin-tuna-from-tom-puchner-on-flickrIt was a bad week for some of the ocean's top predators in Doha, Qatar as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) rejected international trade restrictions on northern bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) and eight species of sharks. I haven't seen much coverage of vote on the shark listing, so this post will focus on the bluefin tuna vote.

The New York Times and Charles Clover (of fish2fork and the End of the Line movie), among others, reported on the bluefin vote and the subsequent reactions from various parties. The meeting had some fireworks, wrote the Economist, with the Libyan delegate reportedly “screaming and calling everyone liars…He said the science was no good and that it was part of a conspiracy of developed countries.”  After he stopped screaming, the Libyan delegate invoked a procedural rule that led to an immediate vote on the bluefin tuna. It wasn't close: 20 for the trade restrictions, 68 against, and 30 abstentions.  The Economist condemned the swiftness of the proceedings:

Libya has used a procedural ruse to force a vote without any substantial discussion of the scientific, technical or economic issues. It has sidestepped the only public forum that exists to discuss whether action is needed to save a species that is being fished, traded and eaten to extinction. Had the discussion taken place before a vote to reject the trade ban, this would at least have counted as an honourable victory.

Japan — consumer of about 80% of the world's bluefin catch — and several nations that catch bluefin tuna (including Canada, which was quite pleased with the proceedings) argued that management of the stocks must be handled by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). But if recent history is any guide, ICCAT is not up to the task, as it regularly sets quotas far above what scientists recommend. An article in the Economist noted that in one recent year, scientists recommended a maximum catch of 15,000 metric tons and ICCAT — under pressure from various countries and economic interests — set a limit of 30,000 metric tons. And then, to make matters worse, lax enforcement and illegal fishing ended up with a catch of about 60,000 metric tons. Consequently, some say that ICCAT really stands for the “International Conspiracy to Catch All Tuna.” (SeafoodSource.com has additional commentary on ICCAT.)

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which was strongly in favor of the CITES listing, issued a statement expressing disappointment and pledged to hold ICCAT to account: “[T]he responsibility is now on ICCAT to manage the fishery in a sustainable manner. The world will be watching.”

At Guilty Planet, Jennifer Jacquet of the University of British Columbia Fisheries Center calls this another failure to see fish as wildlife — especially those with tremendous commercial value like bluefin tuna — and points out that only 5% of the species on the CITES list are marine species.  Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Directory Julie Packard, sees something else, writing that she is “heartened by one thing. We're finally talking about the Atlantic bluefin tuna in the same way we discuss lions, tigers and other charismatic (and endangered) land animals.” On his blog, conservationist Carl Safina reflects on the days when bluefin tuna were plentiful and hopes that someday we’ll do the right thing for bluefin tuna.

In the weeks before the CITES meeting, the AP quoted Hisao Masuko of the Japan Tuna Fisheries Cooperative Association worrying that a CITES listing “could set a dangerous precedent. The list could grow to include the yellowfin and bigeye tuna, too. If nothing is done, we won't have any tuna at Tsukiji fish market [in Tokyo].” Masako’s “dangerous precedent” would temporarily keep fish away, but if "nothing is done," we’ll run through bluefin, then run through bigeye and yellowfin, and then we really won't have any tuna at Tsukiji fish market.

Photo of Bluefin Tuna from Tom Puchner's flickr collection, subject to a Creative Commons License.

4 Responsesto “A bad week for bluefin tuna and sharks”

  1. What am I missing? Why is Libya up in arms about this?

  2. Libyan-flagged fishing vessels catch over 1,000 metric tons of bluefin tuna each year, according to the ICCAT catch database. The country's ports on the Mediterranean probably also handle fish caught by other nations' vessels.

  3. I wondered if there might be some economic justification. The old "Follow the Money" line... Thanks.

  4. Tuna and fish have very potent anti-cancer and diesase fighting properites. just thought we'd add that.