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Greenpeace Blog

Por fin – France support trade ban on bluefin tuna

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. Continue reading ‘Por fin – France support trade ban on bluefin tuna’


Subsidising extinction

Bluefin tuna - sometimes you just can’t believe how absurd the story gets.

Raul Romeva i Rueda and Charles Clover at ICCAT

Raul Romeva i Rueda and Charles Clover at ICCAT

News from WWF and a Green MEP show that over an eight-year period the EU bluefin tuna fishing industry received subsidies totalling €34.5m.

Yes folks, your tax helped fund the overfishing of a species now teetering on the very brink of extinction. A species that 21 out of 27 EU countries now think should be subject to an international trade ban.

Raül Romeva i Rueda, a Spanish Green MEP, received answers to parliamentary questions revealing the extent of subsidies which took place between 2000 and 2008.

Of the €34.5m total, some €33.5m was for the construction and modernisation of fishing vessels, and only a tiny proportion (€1m) for decommissioning boats.

These revelations come as the EU Commission and member states have to start readdressing their own thoughts on Atlantic bluefin. Last month’s ICCAT meeting in Brazil failed to close the fishery, and saw EU negotiators (led by France and Spain) pushing for the highest possible quotas.

This in itself was hypocrisy after three-quarters of EU member states had voted to support an international ban on the species - showing just how disproportionately powerful the lobby of the Mediterranean fishing nations is.

These new revelations make the whole EU bluefin story even more difficult to swallow, since the already lucrative trade in bluefin (which has escalated despite scientific warnings) has been made even more profitable with taxpayers’ money. And it’s not even as if the subsidies were targeted at supporting traditional or lower-impact methods of fishing - they also applied to the massive purse-seiners.

The beneficiaries of the money were Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain. In an amazing coincidence the six EU member states which blocked support for an international trade ban were Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain.

It really makes you wonder what the 21 other EU countries are getting out of this arrangement… and what exactly they will do next? The EU must come up with an agreed common position before the CITES meeting in March 2010.

Many countries like the UK have already publicly supported a full trade ban. This new illustration of just
how the countries blocking effective measures to protect this species are being subsidised to trash the species can surely only strengthen the case for such a ban.


Could bluefin tuna fisheries be closed?

So, here in Brazil, the game is on. At the end of yesterday’s session the parties around the table at the ICCAT meeting were asked what their priorities were for conserving bluefin tuna.

One by one they made positive murmurings about wanting to ‘follow the scientific recommendations’, and enforce compliance with them. They all pretty much said they want to see illegal fishing tackled.

No rocket science there, and you would be forgiven for wondering why they have not done those things already!

More importantly there were also some hints as to how low some countries would go in terms of a quota, with several actually suggesting the possibility of closing the fishery. To you and me that may be a no-brainer. To many of them, it is a seismic shift.

Now, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves here. There is a lot of horse-trading to be done behind closed stable doors. And it’s worth noting that the talk about closing the fishery is just for one year – which could well be a very convenient way of avoiding bluefin being subject to an international trade ban under CITES.

Greenpeace, and other conservation organisations here, won’t settle for that – and we are reminding the participants at ICCAT that the only credible thing they can do is close this fishery.

And it seems they desperately want to regain some credibility here. You can understand that, after all ICCAT was branded an ‘international disgrace’ by an independent review.

The spotlight is on them because of what they have allowed to happen to bluefin, and the bureaucrats who attend these meetings really don’t like that. Delegate after delegate has talked about the need for ICCAT to claw back credibility, conveniently ignoring that this is a situation their own bad judgement in the past has got them into.

From an observer’s point of view here there is much to be cynical about. This is a dysfunctional meeting in a tropical paradise, at a resort whose very construction has caused disruption and problems for the local coastline in Brazil, with gala dinners, cocktail receptions, and a self-congratulating bunch of faceless bureaucrats mismanaging species, fisheries, and livelihoods.

Yesterday was an eye opener, with some impassioned and stirring interventions (particularly from some of the African delegations) requesting stronger action to protect stocks of fish in their waters.

At several points I wanted to stand up, cheer and applaud. But those heartfelt pleas were met by some cynical process point-scoring by delegations on the other side of the table, immediately filling me with despair.

There is still a long way to go here.

  • Willie MacKenzie is part of Greenpeace’s Ocean Campaign. This blog post originally appeared on the Greenpeace UK website.


The End of the Line screened at 10 Downing Street

On 17th September The End Of The Line became only the second film ever to be have a screening at No. 10 Downing Street – a very special event hosted by the Prime Minister’s wife, Sarah Brown.

Willie MacKenzie and Claire Lewis outside Number 10 Downing Street, before the screening of The End of the Line

Willie MacKenzie and Claire Lewis outside Number 10, before the screening of The End of the Line

The specially-invited audience was an eclectic mix of individuals, ranging from people working in the media, to NGOs, restaurateurs, representatives of the fishing industry, and some sixth-form students too.

Indeed Sarah Brown joked that many people were confused as to why they had been invited.

The UK’s Fisheries Minister, Huw Irranca-Davies was there, and both he and Sarah Brown told the assembled crowd just how important and essential they think the film is, and Charles Clover and Executive Producer Chris Gorell-Barnes were also able to say a few words on the issues.

This was a great opportunity, not only for the obligatory photos by the famous door, but also for reaching out to new audiences with the film’s message.

Sarah Brown has been a big supporter of the End Of The Line since attending the screening at the Science Museum earlier this year, and it is with the support of many such individuals that the film has managed to cross over and reach parts other documentaries can’t reach!

As well as the opportunity to see the film, the event was a great forum for the film team, and us fish-hugging NGO-types to talk about the issues in an informal setting with some people who really can help make a difference. The impressive surroundings helped too of course.

It’s rare, for example to get some unfettered access to chat with a government minister, and it’s also great to be able to talk to people fresh from their first viewing of the film about what are the most relevant and pressing things we need to do now.

It would be no exaggeration to say that bluefin was the hot topic on everyone’s lips (and thankfully I’m not referring to the catering).

The urgency of the plight of bluefin is something that we can’t ignore – and it’s something that we must give the UK government some kudos for, as they seem to be taking a very strong international lead on calling for a ban on the international trade in the species.

Thursday night’s screening was a chance for some supporters, notably the glamorous and eager bluefin-defender Greta Scacchi, to get a sense of how they can help at an international level, and for us to forge relationships with some of the people making the decisions, and others keen to help spread the message

And this is, of course, very timely too. Next week will see a crucial meeting when (we hope) EU member states agree to back the European Commission’s proposal for a ban on bluefin trade.

We see in Thursday’s Guardian yet another expose of rampant illegal fishing for bluefin tuna… and we must do whatever we can to make Europe and the rest of the world wake up to the need to take action.


Good news for fisheries - if we continue conservation measures

So. Is the glass half full, or half empty?

There are of course other options, and it may well be difficult to tell because you are looking at the glass from a funny angle.

Man holding tuna - The new report underlines that in large swathes of the worlds' fisheries conservation measures are not happening

The new report underlines that in large swathes of the worlds' fisheries conservation measures are not happening

That certainly seems to be the conclusion when reading the various media interpretations of an important new study published in the journal Science on the world’s fisheries.

The study’s key co-authors are Professor Boris Worm, and Professor Ray Hilborn – who can be seen verbally dueling over the state of the world’s fisheries in The End Of The Line.

Continue reading ‘Good news for fisheries - if we continue conservation measures’


Seafish - set to boycott bluefin tuna?

As per the great British tradition, there was something fishy in yesterday’s news: an interesting little snippet in PR Weekly, announcing that a new PR firm has been hired to work for Seafish.

Whitby seafront: Up until the 1950s bluefin tuna was caught off the East coast of the British Isles

Whitby seafront: Up until the 1950s bluefin tuna was caught off the East coast of the British Isles

Seafish, in case you didn’t know, are the industry body responsible for promoting (and, in many cases, defending) the fishing industry in the UK. They are paid for by us, both as a levy on the fish we buy, and in government funding.

The news here is that they are looking to communicate how the UK fishing industry is 100 per cent behind ’sustainability’, which is of course fantastic.

Not least because UK seas, like many others in Europe, have seen the most rapacious excesses of overfishing in decades and centuries gone by.

They also say that one of the issues they want to communicate is “the sale of bluefin tuna”.

Now, Seafish are rather late to that particular party for a number of reasons. Our own fisheries minister has already announced that the UK will back a ban on the trading of bluefin (as have Monaco, France and the Netherlands).

And of course Greenpeace, The End of The Line, WWF, Oceana, and many other organisations have been campaigning to change the perilous situation of bluefin for years.

But, of course, we welcome Seafish, belatedly, to the bandwagon. So what does this mean?

Will Seafish be supporting the ban on the trade of bluefin?

Will they be calling for a ban on the sale of endangered species like bluefin by restaurants like Nobu, as our fisheries minister has now done?

Just what will Seafish be doing to make sure bluefin tuna is rescued from the brink of extinction?

I’m certainly keen to find out.

Of course, some in the fishing industry have criticised The End Of The Line for focusing on bluefin, saying it’s not relevant to the UK. But that is where they are very, very wrong.

Not only is bluefin a species on the brink of extinction, something that should concern us all, but it is found in UK waters. That’s why the UK government’s announcement is meaningful.

Not only is the UK a ‘range state‘ for bluefin tuna, but we used to have our own bluefin tuna fishery in the North Sea. Up until the middle of last century, sports fishermen were catching bluefin off resorts like Scarborough and Whitby.

So if Seafish and the UK government are serious about the sustainability of our seas and our fish stocks, presumably they want to manage our seas for recovery, so that species that are no longer common can recover and thrive again in places like the North Sea.

That means designating large areas off-limits to fishing as marine reserves, both for the overall resilience of the seas, and for protecting specific areas of importance (such as the area around the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean, which is a breeding ground for bluefin tuna).

Rather than see bluefin tuna as an irrelevance or a convenient media hook, I’m looking forward to seeing Seafish do something meaningful to ensure their continued existence.

  • Willie MacKenzie is part of Greenpeace’s Ocean Campaign. This blog post originally appeared on the Greenpeace UK website.


Newlyn black fishing case: nominal £1 fines for 45 charges

Despite the old adage, it seems that crime does pay… at least if you are the Stevenson family of Newlyn.

Cod - Newlyn black fishing case: nominal £1 fines for 45 charges

Cod - The Stevenson family were fined £1 for each of the 45 charges that they were found guilty of

As reported by the BBC, the family, who operate fishing trawlers in Cornwall, were prosecuted for routinely landing illegal fish.

Not only were they landing species they had no quotas for, but they were doing so by passing them off as other species, so it was all pre-meditated and well-orchestrated.

They also conveniently ran the auctions where the fish are sold, and falsified the records of what fish had been sold to match what the skippers said they landed.

And it was also profitable - it’s estimated that £4m worth of fish were landed illegally. All the more galling that the firm is run by Elizabeth Stevenson, who was the former president of the National Federation of Fisheries Organisations.

But we can take solace in the fact that they were caught and prosecuted. They were found guilty of a total of 45 charges. And they have been fined accordingly… or so the judge seems to think.

On top of paying legal costs (£66,000) and being ordered to pay back £710,000, they have just been fined for the offences. But the total fine of the actual fine was £45. Yes, £45, I didn’t misplace the decimal point or under-report anything. One measly pound for every charge for which they were found guilty.

Just to set that in context: they profited by over £4 million… and are being punished by getting to keep over £3.2 million.

Whilst some may shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, it’s all Europe’s fault,” they knew what they were doing, and they were trying to get around the system - the system that is of course there because of concerns over dwindling fish stocks and over-fishing.

Had they been trying to use their (clearly) considerable influence to make a point about a problem with discards, I would applaud them. Had they been making a point about destructive fishing methods like beam-trawling being unacceptable (and they would know all about beam-trawlers), then I would have sympathy.

But the truth is, it was all about making money, and to hell with the environmental considerations. These are the real pirates of Penzance but there is nothing romantic about it.

This makes me very angry, and you should be too. They are over-fishing stocks that belong to all of us. This is your money. These are your fish.

There is also a huge amount of irony in Elizabeth Stevenson’s response that, “It’s not going to be easy to find this sum of money. It’s huge.”

  • Willie MacKenzie is part of Greenpeace’s Ocean Campaign. This blog post originally appeared on the Greenpeace UK website.


Cod stocks - no cause to celebrate just yet

Seafish and the fishing industry are cod-a-hoop recently, because it seems that cod stocks are doing better.

You may have missed the news, but the story is that the EU’s scientific advice suggests that stocks of North Sea cod have increased five per cent in the last year, and are up a whopping 40 per cent from the average in 2005-2008.

Cod fishermen in the North Sea: Cod stocks - no cause to celebrate just yet

Cod fishermen in the North Sea

Sounds like great news. And of course any increase in a rampantly-overfished population of animals is to be welcomed. But it needs to be set in context.

Cod stocks are generally at a historic low in the North Sea. Viewing numbers against last year, or five years ago, may indeed show a slight increase, but basic arithmetic will quickly tell you that five or even 40 per cent of ‘hardly-any’ is equal to ‘not-very-much’.

We need to look at the level of cod stocks decades, generations and centuries ago. That’s what we should be aiming for - managing our seas for the recovery and abundance of species rather than scrabbling around amongst the low digits snapping off every green shoot of recovery as soon as it breaks the surface. Charles Clover puts it into context here.

And then there’s the other good news - fishermen are voluntarily taking measures to reduce ‘discards’ (whereby marketable species like cod are chucked away dead, being over quota, under sized, or not very sellable).

This is indeed great news. I for one am delighted that measures like more selective nets are being used, and that areas are being closed to fishing to try and protect cod stocks and reduce discards. This is eminently sensible, and the sort of thing Greenpeace has been campaigning for for years.

Of course we should minimise discards, they benefit no one.

But again, let’s look at the figures in context. As it’s not enough to say we have a great scheme for reducing discards, unless it does the job, is it? And what is the EU scientists’ news on cod discards in the North Sea … why, last year they showed a dramatic increase in discards. Yes, an increase.

More cod were caught and discarded (chucked away, dead and wasted) than were caught and landed. Most of these were immature fish that will never have the chance to breed.

So, by all means let’s applaud those taking measures to reduce fishing capacity, minimise discards, set aside areas free of fishing as marine reserves, and use more selective methods … but North Sea cod are not out of the woods yet.

Clamouring for increased quotas and painting such a rosy picture of recovery does the fishing industry no favours.

  • Willie MacKenzie is part of Greenpeace’s Ocean Campaign. This blog post originally appeared on the Greenpeace UK website.


Robert De Niro, what are you waiting for?

The celeb-favourite sushi restaurant Nobu is back in the media spotlight this week, but with column inches devoted to bluefin tuna rather than A-list diners.

Greenpeace activists give out leaflets outside Nobu protesting against the restaurant selling bluefin tuna

Greenpeace activists give out leaflets outside Nobu protesting against the restaurant selling bluefin tuna

As Greenpeace revealed last year, Nobu, who pride themselves as market leaders and an exclusive venue, were serving up bluefin tuna as sushi.

Bluefin is an endangered species, like rhinos, tigers, or gorillas, and after it was pointed out to them last September (although the species had been on the IUCN red list of endangered species for 12 years, had they bothered to check), they gave assurances that they would do something about it.

But sadly it seems Nobu can’t be bothered. They know they are serving up endangered species, and helping to push them towards extinction, but profit comes first, right? Continue reading ‘Robert De Niro, what are you waiting for?’


Save the fish and save the world!

Dramatic title perhaps, but maybe not quite so far-fetched.

In Sundance, one of the questions that came up repeatedly at showings of the End Of The Line movie is ‘what about climate change?’ assuming, rightly, that a warming planet will have implications for our fish populations too.

Orange roughy after being caught by a deep sea trawler

Orange roughy after being caught by a deep sea trawler

Well my practised response to this before I got there was simply that the effects of climate change make all of the issues of rapacious overfishing all the more important. They make the need for precaution when it comes to fishing, and the need for fully protected areas essential.

The truth is that climate change is already affecting our oceans, and we don’t know what the outcome will be on currents/temperature/salinity, which means we can’t predict what impact it will have on plankton or anything more complicated.

But common sense tells us, in degraded oceans, where we have already diminished sealife’s ability to cope, it won’t be good news. Continue reading ‘Save the fish and save the world!’


One fish, two fish, red fish . . . .

So, we’ve been here at Sundance to help give Greenpeace support to the End Of The Line film.

In many ways this isn’t normal Greenpeace territory, and we found out with quite short notice that the movie was premiering here in Utah, so we scratched our collective heads and thought what to do.

In the end, and after some complicated logistics involving four Greenpeace offices (thank you guys!) we managed to get five Greenpeace US volunteers, and two red fish suits from Greenpeace Netherlands.

Park City during Sundance is crazy busy. The Main Street, hotels, and carparks are all chockablock, and everyone has a film to sell or see.

So, clearly we needed something to attract a bit of attention. And I think that a huge, round, red, fluffy fish is about as eye-catching as it gets. Our teams of volunteers alternated between being fish, and engaging with curious members of the Sundance public who wanted to know what’s going on. Continue reading ‘One fish, two fish, red fish . . . .’


Is it The End Of The Line?

So, what’s the movie we’re here in Sundance with about then? Well it’s an adaptation of Charles Clover’s brilliant book on overfishing, The End Of The Line, which is an evocative, and shocking portrayal of what we have done, and are doing to our oceans – just to put seafood on our plates.

Greenpeace guppies spread their message on overfishing on the ski slopes

Greenpeace guppies spread their message about overfishing on the ski slopes

Seafood is a global issue and practically nowhere on our seas is beyond human reach now – the movie gives an overview of the main issues like overfishing, destructive fishing and poor management.

The movie takes a global look at the true price we’re paying for our seafood, vividly illustrating the impact we’re having, but that very few of us even realise.
Continue reading ‘Is it The End Of The Line?’


What’s Greenpeace doing at Sundance Film Festival?

I’m writing this from Utah, a landlocked state in the US, which hosts the Sundance Film Festival each year.

Greenpeace stage a fun protest on overfishing with a walkabout by a Guppie

Greenpeace stage a fun protest on overfishing with a walkabout by a guppie

Sundance is known as *the* place for new independent films, and we’re here to support a great new documentary movie about what overfishing is doing to our oceans.

As anyone familiar with the oceans campaign knows, after climate change, fishing is the biggest threat to life in our oceans – ruthlessly overfishing stocks, discarding perfectly-marketable fish, needlessly killing other species as bycatch, and trashing entire habitats with destructive fishing gear.

Yet since it’s being done out at sea, and out of sight, it’s largely out of mind for most people. Just how much thought do most people give to the fish they eat? Do they know where it comes from? How it was caught? Continue reading ‘What’s Greenpeace doing at Sundance Film Festival?’