President Sarkozy of France has announced his country’s support for a ban on international trade in endangered bluefin tuna before it disappears forever from the sea and our plates.
His initiative was followed quickly by a similar announcement by Huw Irranca-Davies, the British fisheries minister.
The backing of two major EU countries for a ban on the international bluefin tuna trade has instantly given weight and momentum to the campaign by Monaco - and our film, The End of the Line - to have the bluefin listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) next year.
The United States will now be under pressure to respond. Speaking at the close of a national stakeholder consultation on France’s future sustainable fisheries and maritime policy, President Sarkozy said: “France supports listing bluefin tuna on the CITES convention to ban international trade.”
He added: “Ours is the last generation with the ability to take action before it’s too late – we must protect marine resources now, in order to fish better in future. We owe this to fishermen, and we owe it to future generations.”
President Sarkozy’s announcement that he is backing an Appendix 1 listing for bluefin - which bans all international trade - under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species is not without irony. France’s fleet has traditionally caught more bluefin than any other country, trading its catches with tuna “farms” all over the Mediterranean.
Quotas have been set higher than scientists advised for more than a decade by the Madrid-based International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and a large proportion of catches has been illegal.
President Sarkozy’s announcement will almost certainly have been the result of lobbying by Monaco, but it will also have been informed by the latest reports from the Mediterranean where scientists and researchers report that the bluefin tuna population is collapsing.
Cynics will say that an international ban on trade would make it far easier for the French government to police its own tuna fleet without being constantly criticised by the Algerian minorities which dominate the industry.
It also means France can walk away from at least some of the blame for a disaster its fleet helped to cause.
As we were making the film, The End of the Line, in the Mediterranean we were uncomfortably aware that we could be filming the last round up of a species, like the American bison or the blue whale before it. Now we know we were.
The latest reports show that very few tuna have been caught this year and those that have are immature, a sure sign of stock collapse.
As pressure comes on for other governments to support the listing of Atlantic bluefin under CITES - which will require a two-thirds majority to pass at the next meeting of the convention in Doha next March - the question must be asked whether the bluefin population has any chance of recovering to former levels or whether it will be forever doomed to lurk as a tiny remnant because of the human race’s greed and stupidity.
President Sarkozy’s announcement - and Britain’s reprise of it - amounts to an admission that what we are seeing is a fisheries catastrophe just as significant as the Northern cod on the Grand Banks under the EU’s failed system of governance for its seas. It is a disaster that can only hasten the pace of reform.