At last, France has officially announced support for an international trade ban on Atlantic bluefin. This is great news.
It means that 23 out of the 27 EU countries now support the species being protected by CITES (the organisation which regulates trade in endangered species). It also means there is no longer any effective block to stop the EU reaching a common position (at a previous vote, it had been blocked by the Mediterranean countries).
Two of the main fishing nations, Italy and France are supporting the trade ban, and Italy has already declared it is suspending its own fishery. That is pretty momentous. It’s as if the proverbial turkeys have just voted for Christmas by a landslide.
Wind back just a year, and this might all seem unthinkable. Yet President Sarkozy stood up on a podium last July and announced France was going to protect bluefin. The position in France has not exactly been as clear as consommé in the intervening months, and the political position seems to have flip-flopped more than a floundering fish on a foredeck.
This does France no favours. Whatever internal difficulties there are between ministries, whatever worries there are of backlash from the fishing industry, to the rest of us it is reprehensible that those directly responsible for the collapse of bluefin can then prevent the rest of Europe addressing the problem.
Ironically, even French chefs have decided to take matters into their own menus by dropping bluefin. Greenpeace recently conducted a poll that showed the public in France was in favour of protecting the species too. The French government is playing catch-up on public opinion.
So it is with some alarm that France’s announcement seems to be qualified with a condition to delay the trade ban. The rationale here doesn’t seem to be very clear, or in any way justifiable. It’s just putting off the inevitable and seems designed to give ICCAT, the feeble, failed management body which has presided over the collapse of Atlantic bluefin yet another last chance.
All of this is adding insult to injury. The EU has already been delayed enough in coming to a common position on this, it’s a Euroscpetic’s dream.
Twenty-one out of 27 countries already voted for a trade ban back in September 2009, Italy now support that too – which means there should be a qualified majority, even without France. So, frankly, there’s no need to even discuss a compromise and a delay that would just do even more damage to the depleted bluefin stock.
We are now only five weeks away from the CITES meeting in Doha. Now is not the time for more chin-scratching, shrugging and delay. The EU needs to do the right thing, the only credible thing, and immediately throw its full and unqualified support behind an international trade ban on Atlantic bluefin.
- Willie MacKenzie is part of Greenpeace’s Ocean Campaign. This blog post originally appeared on the Greenpeace UK website.