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The bluefin disaster – if they needed our help why didn’t they ask?

I don’t think I am alone in thinking that we need a post-mortem to establish what went wrong with the campaign in support of Monaco’s proposal for a listing of the bluefin tuna under Cites Appendix 1.

It seems fairly clear that while Japan and its allies perceived a danger to their interests from Cites listing and began campaigning against it as long ago as last year, the EU and the US remained preoccupied with divisions within their own borders until a late stage and did not grasp the strength of the alliance ranged against them.

That seems a pretty serious mistake by anyone’s standards. Anyone with a sense of history would have looked up the chapters in Carl Safina’s book, Song For the Blue Ocean, about how Sweden’s 1992 proposed Appendix II listing of the bluefin came to be abandoned, and learned the lessons of what Japan did then. It seems fairly clear that Japan ran a fairly similar campaign this time. Indeed, the head of its delegation, the charming but ruthless Masanori Miyahara, chief counselor to the Fisheries Agency of Japan is a veteran of Japan’s successful 1992 campaign. Did the UK, the strongest advocate of a listing in Europe, or the US not mobilize similar expertise from that time? I am inclined to suspect not.

Did Britain, Ireland, Norway, Germany and Sweden seek to explain their difficulties with the incompetent management of ICCAT over the past decade or more to Canada, South Africa, Australia, Iceland or New Zealand, rational fishing countries which might have understood their point?

I understood on the date of the vote that officials from the British government had made no attempt to introduce Norway, a major fishing nation which supported Appendix 1 on the basis of the FAO scientific panel’s findings, to South Africa and Namibia, key friendly countries which opposed it.

Secondly, did the US, EU or Norway not foresee the opposition of the Arab League to Monaco’s proposal on the grounds that it would cost the jobs of thousands of fishermen. Quite apart from making the point that the collapse of the tuna fishery would lead to the permanent loss of jobs, while a temporary Appendix 1 listing would actually lead to a recovery of stocks and of the health of the industry, the EU should
have been talking about compensation.

The EU’s own fishermen have received assurances that they would be compensated for not fishing, so what were the North African’s supposed to do? There is enough oil pouring out of wells in Qatar and Kuwait to keep them happy for a few years but did the West make that point to the Arab League? There is no evidence that it did. The Government of Qatar, which organized the Doha conference, is anxious to hide its role as conspirator in the plot to bring down the flagship proposal at Doha but as part of the UAE was it not responsible for opposing it.
Didn’t Britain and the US, old friends of the Arab world, twig this would happen?

Someone needs to ask whether sufficient diplomatic or political capital was thrown into the fight by pro-Annex 1 countries. Or did the EU and US only start thinking about winning hearts and minds after their support for Appendix 1 was announced? It has been clear to Japan since the ICCAT meeting last November of the fight it would face at Doha and it used the time well.

Were EU officials properly briefed on how votes worked at Cites or the need for a vigorous debate including all the best advocate nations behind the proposal – who were stifled into silence by the stupid EU policy of speaking only through the Presidency, in this case Spain which had been opposing the policy of support for Appendix 1 only two weeks before?

I can only throw the smallest sidelight on all this. Our film The End of the Line has been showing across Europe in screenings organized by a coalition of environmental organizations and has succeeded in persuading people everywhere that the bluefin campaign, and the proposal to put sharks on Appendix II, was the front line in the campaign to protect the resources of the sea. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has shown the film repeatedly in-house to its officials and I have attended a question and answer session for officials there.

We offered it to the British government for its reception at Doha, where we naively believed it might like to showcase its campaign to place the bluefin on Appendix 1. The offer was refused. We offered to help ministers and officials target those diplomatic contacts who would be necessary to persuade if an Appendix
1 listing was to succeed. Our offers were not taken up, nor, I gather, were those of some environmental groups. I heard from one official that the head of the British delegation didn’t come and introduce himself to me at Doha because he didn’t know what I looked like. Since our film has been credited by many with his government’s position on the bluefin issue, I find it rather difficult to believe that he hasn’t seen it. If he had, he would know who he was looking for.

So in short, if they had so little idea what they were doing, why on Earth didn’t ministers and officials ask civil society for more help?
It is now time for Parliamentarians and Congressmen to press these questions.

Charles Clover in Doha


Head of fisheries at WWF Mediterranean comments on bluefin

Sergi Tudela, head of fisheries at WWF Mediterranean said: “After overwhelming scientific justification and growing political support in past months – with backing from the majority of catch quota holders on both sides of the Atlantic – it is scandalous that governments did not even get the chance to engage in meaningful debate about the international trade ban proposal for Atlantic bluefin tuna.

“The regional fisheries management organization in charge of this fishery - ICCAT - has repeatedly failed to sustainable manage this fishery. ICCAT has so far failed miserably in this duty so every pressure at the highest level must come to bear to ensure it does what it should.”

WWF said it would call on restaurants, retailers, chefs and consumers around the world to stop selling, serving, buying and eating bluefin.

“It is now more important than ever for people to do what the politicians failed to do – stop consuming bluefin tuna,” Dr Tudela said.

Charles Clover


Lastest report from Charles Clover in Doha “It was an Ambush”

It was an ambush. Fishing nations, led by Libya, ruthlessly voted down proposals to ban international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna at the meeting of 115 parties to the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species this afternoon.

Delegates from Monaco, the EU and the United States had hoped to keep the proposals being discussed into next week in the hope that compromises could be found. In the event, the debate was short and not at all sweet. Monaco’s proposal for an unqualified trade ban was rejected by 68 votes to 20, with 30 abstentions. Before that, the EU’s highly qualified version of the same proposal was crushed by 72 votes to 43.

The debate began with Monaco’s ambassador, Patrick Van Klaveren, speaking out in favour the proposal to place the Atlantic bluefin on Cites Appendix 1, on the grounds that the tuna had declined to less than 15 per cent of its original stock and UN scientists from two official bodies accepted that the criteria for it to be listed on Appendix 1 had been met.

This was followed by a lacklustre presentation, by the Spanish presidency, in favour of the conditions the EU wanted to place on the proposal. Then, instead of the torrent of support conservationists had hoped for there was a cascade of fishing nations, starting with Canada, speaking out against the proposed ban and in favour of leaving the management of the bluefin with the Atlantic tuna commission, ICCAT, which until recently has failed to set scientifically based quotas or to crack down on illegal fishing.

Speeches in favour of ICCAT continuing to manage the species, which can fetch up to $100,000 for a single specimen on the Japanese market, rolled on – Indonesia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Chile, Japan, Grenada, Korea, Senegal, Morocco.

Tunisia talked of social problems that would be caused if there was a ban, Morocco spoke of 2000 families in an area of no other employment who would have no income. Morocco said the bluefin was a flagship species it was in the interests of all to preserve, but said it was premature to regulate it under Cites.

Only Kenya, Norway and the United States spoke up in favour of a ban, despite advice from both the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and ICCAT’s own scientific committee that the bluefin deserved a respite from international trade.

By the time the eccentric Libyan delegate got the floor, it was clear where the majority lay. All it took was for Libya to propose a vote on Monaco’s proposal, and the chairman of the meeting, John Donaldson, had to put the proposal to close the debate to the meeting.

It was quite clear from there what would happen. Once the vote to hold a vote had been passed, the votes on the EU’s and Monaco’s vote were both lost.

Patrick Van Klaveren, for Monaco, said magnanimously: “It is not a defeat it is the manifestation of confidence put in ICCAT to solve the problem.” He threatened to come back in 2013 with another proposal to list the bluefin under Appendix 1 if ICCAT failed to take up the challenge to manage the bluefin for recovery.

At the press conference he shook hands with the leader of the Japanese delegation, Mitsunori Miyahara, who had taken part in the defeat of an attempt to place the bluefin on Cites in 1992.

Mr Miyahara, chief counsellor to the Japanese Fisheries Agency, said: “We agree that the bluefin is not in good shape. We have to take any measure for recovery. We have to work harder from now on.”

He said that at last November’s meeting of ICCAT, “finally the system started to work.”
“We are going to wipe out illegal fish from our markets.”

Sue Lieberman of the Pew Environment Trust branded the decision “irresponsible.”
“This meeting has said let’s take science and throw it out the door. There was clearly pressure from fishing industry. This fish is too valuable for its own good.
“Statements made about ICCAT blatantly were false. It’s time to hold ICCAT’s feet to the fire. We will be there every step of the way.”

Charles Clover


Japan backs closure of bluefin fishery – but not Cites listing

Doha. 17.3.10. The Japanese delegation in Doha said it was totally opposed to a ban on international trade in bluefin tuna but it would back a halt to fishing if scientists warned stocks were in danger. “Our position is quite simple, we would like to take conservation measures in the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, not under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species,” said Masanori Miyahara, head of the Japanese delegation.

“We are concerned about the bluefin tuna. We were willing to have the suspension of Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery at ICCAT [last November] but it was the EU that opposed it.” Mr Miyahara, who is chief counsellor to the Japanese Fisheries Agency, said there would be a new stock assessment undertaken by ICCAT this autumn. “As a result we will take necessary measures and if necessary suspension [of fishing for bluefin].”

Mr Miyahara said that Japan has worked hard in the past four years to crack down on illegally caught fish. It had forced tuna penners in North African waters to release 840 tonnes of bluefin that were of questionable origin.

It has also impounded 2300 tons of Maltese and Spanish frozen tuna because it does not have completed documents of origin. Mr Miyahara said Japan had a five-stage inspection system, using video to check the amount of fish in tuna cages. “It is not us, but the exporters and fishers who have to demonstrate compliance,” he said. “We are very serious about bluefin conservation and we are ready to take very serious measures,” he said.

He said that the proposal to list bluefin on Cites Appendix 1 was “unfair” because it would allow the EU to catch 3,000 tons, more than any country currently has under ICCAT, and the United States would be allowed to go on fishing for its own domestic market.

Mr Miyahara said it would be a mistake to think that Japan could not do without bluefin, however. Bluefin represented only 3 per cent of imports. It imports annually 400,000 tonnes of high quality including yellowfin, southern bluefin tuna and bigeye.

Some delegations are picking up feelers that despite Japan’s outright opposition to bluefin being included under the Cites treaty, it might be prepared to compromise on some form of Appendix II listing, which means regulated trade. Mr Miyahara is a veteran of the Japanese delegation which successfully saw off an attempt by Sweden to list the bluefin tuna on Cites Appendix 2 in 1992.

A member of the Swedish delegation who asked to remain anonymous said last night: “Sweden withdrew the proposal in 1992 because ICCAT promised to shape up, which they did not do. This has been demonstrated by Monaco in its 47-page proposal to list bluefin under Cites Appendix 1.”

Charles Clover


Arab League opposed to all marine listings

Opposition to the listing of sharks on Cites Appendix II and bluefin on Appendix I received a boost in Doha yesterday when it became clear that the Arab League countries would be opposing all marine proposals, including the listing of red coral.

Sources close to the convention said that the League was concerned by the “socio-economic problems” that stopping trade with Japan would cause for fishermen along the North African coast.
Tunisia, in particular, has expressed strong opposition to a Cites Appendix 1 listing of bluefin.

Ghamen Abdulla Mohamed, director of wildlife conservation at Qatar’s Ministry for Environment, refused to comment and said the host nation would make its views known “after discussions.”

Patrick Van Klaveren, the ambassador to Monaco, which has proposed the Appendix 1 listing, said there could be ways of compensating the fishermen, possibly even through the richer members of the Arab League or some environmental fund.

One thing is clear; there is no mechanism for compensating fishermen under ICCAT which is the management regime Japan wants to stick with.

Charles Clover in Doha


Appendix II equals business as usual and that’s bad

March 16, Doha.

I predicted yesterday that Japan would be trying to get the Cites meeting to back an Appendix II listing for the bluefin tuna, which means regulated trade. The Pew Environment Group put out a very clear statement earlier today which shows why Appendix II would mean business as usual for the tuna, ie more gutless management by ICCAT.

Pew’s statement said: “We wanted to let you know that we’re hearing that some nations are thinking about proposing an Appendix II listing for Atlantic bluefin tuna. Please note that this would not change the status quo, and is just an effort to block what is really needed—Appendix I and a trade suspension. The CITES treaty is written so that if the trade of a species listed in Appendix II is governed by another treaty that predates CITES, than all trade management in that species defers to the initial treaty, not CITES.”

“In the case of Atlantic bluefin, whose trade is governed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), an Appendix II listing keeps the species management in the hands of the treaty organization that has failed to set sustainable catch levels and has no enforcement authority.”

I hope that is clear. Only an Appendix 1 listing will do.

Take note Australia, which thinks perversely that management of the bluefin should be left with ICCAT, an organisation with few of the controls that now govern the fishing of the southern bluefin tuna.
Why side with lower standards than you set yourselves? I think Australia is missing something here.

Charles Clover


Charles Clover’s update from CITES

Greetings from Doha, Qatar, where some 120 countries, so far, are meeting to discuss the protection of the world’s endangered species.

This is the beginning of discussions which will decide the fate of 42 proposals over the next two weeks to restrict trade in species ranging from the polar bear to Mexican plants used in lipstick and, via the ever controversial big cats and ivory, to this year’s most controversial species, those caught in commercial fisheries, including several species of shark and the Atlantic bluefin tuna.

As expected, the bluefin is causing the most excitement, particularly in Japan, where some 80 per cent of the journalists booked to be here are from. Japan has a delegation of more than 50.
They have been busy. They have been placing stories saying that the attempt to ban international trade in the bluefin is an attack on the Japanese custom of eating fish. Well, it isn’t, it about the failure of soft management for a species that goes for a lot of hard currency.
They have been placing stories to worry the West Africans, saying that the Spanish and French purse seine fleets which fish in the Mediterranean will come to their waters if trade is banned, ignoring the fact that these are not long-distance, ocean-going vessels and it is up to the West Africans who they allow to fish in their waters, anyway. It looks as if Japan is panicking.

There have been indications that the secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species is increasingly getting fed up with the allegations from fishing countries that CITES is no place to regulate commercial fish species(CITES already regulates trade in 24,000 plant species and 4,000 animals and has done since 1975.)

Willem Wijnstekers, its secretary general, told the opening plenary that he found comments that CITES should not get involved in regulating bluefin “really worrying” and he totally disagreed with that comment. The Secretariat is increasingly calling the tune. It has commissioned a review of whether the EU’s complicated and Machiavellian proposal endorsing an Appendix 1 listing of bluefin - but placing lots of conditions on it - is legal. That is expected in the next couple of days.

Meanwhile, we can expect Japan to become shriller still in defense of the disgracefully-managed trade in its favorite sushi.

Charles Clover


The End of the Line Launched in Spanish

The Spanish version of The End of the Line, the first major feature documentary film revealing the impact of overfishing on our oceans, was launched by MarViva Foundation, Oceana Europe and renowned singer Miguel Bose in Madrid on 3rd February.

MarViva Founder and President, Erica Knie, speaks during the press conference presenting The End of the Line in Madrid, Spain. (From left to right), Knie, Oceana Europe Director Xavier Pastor, and artist Miguel Bose

MarViva Founder and President, Erica Knie, speaks during the press conference presenting The End of the Line in Madrid, Spain. (From left to right), Knie, Oceana Europe Director Xavier Pastor, and artist Miguel Bose

The film examines the imminent extinction of bluefin tuna, brought on by increasing western demand for sushi; the impact on marine life resulting in huge overpopulation of jellyfish; and the profound implications of a future world with no fish.

Bose is the narrator in the Spanish version of the documentary, directed by Rupert Murray and based on investigative journalist Charles Clover’s book of the same name.

During the presentation, MarViva and Oceana released a statement signed by a group of environmental organisations and international figures urging Spain to support the ban on the international trade of bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) at the next Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that will be held in Doha (Qatar) in March.

Representatives of Greenpeace, Ecologistas en Acción, Pew Foundation and the government of the Balearic Islands, and Roberto Mielgo (the former tuna farmer turned whistleblower who is a protagonist of the film) were present to support the statement.

They highlighted the critical situation that the species is undergoing in the North Atlantic and the need for immediate action to ensure its future. Decades of overfishing, illegal fishing and management dominated by industry interests, have decimated the bluefin tuna spawning stock to levels below 15 per cent of the existing population before industrial fishing.

Negotiations are currently taking place in the heart of the EU for a common stance for the CITES meeting, which will be a determining factor for this species’ future. The European Parliament’s Environment Committee, in a resolution within the process framework, has already urged Member States to support Monaco’s proposal for a ban on international trade.

The signatories consider that Spain has the responsibility of acting to preserve bluefin tuna, and they urge the Spanish government to immediately adopt and promote the following measures:

Support for the inclusion of bluefin tuna in Appendix I of CITES

Bluefin tuna is disappearing. The decades of management by the Contracting Parties to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which include the EU, have been called an “international disgrace” [Report of the Independent Performance Review of ICCAT,  2008].

The parties have shown themselves to be incapable of adopting the necessary measures such as quotas in accordance with scientists’ advice or the closure of the fishery during the spawning period. CITES is currently the sole valid alternative to guarantee the future of this species.

On the other hand, the socio-economic considerations do not make sense in this context. The EU Member States must guarantee the fishing industry’s long-term viability. The administration’s current position only constitutes a guarantee that bluefin tuna fishing will cease to exist in the near future.

Spain, which currently holds the EU presidency and has the highest quota percentage among Member States, therefore has the responsibility of supporting this measure.

Creation of marine reserves in bluefin tuna spawning areas

The protection of bluefin tuna spawning areas in the Mediterranean through the creation of marine reserves is a necessary step to protect this species, starting with the area located to the south of the Balearic Islands where there is already sufficient scientific information that upholds the immediate need for protection.

The signatories include:


1. Palma Aquarium
2. PEW Foundation
3. Slow Food Spain
4. Slow Food Illes Balears
5. Greenpeace España
6. Avina
7. Ecologistas en Acción
8. WWF
9. Grup Balear de Ornitología (GOB) Mallorca
10. Grup Balear de Ornitología (GOB) Menorca
11. Grup Balear de Ornitología (GOB) Eivissa
12. Instituto Internacional de Derecho y Medio Ambiente (IIDMA)
13. Amics de la Terra Balears
14. Amigos de la Tierra Spain
15. Centro de Estudios Rurales y de Agricultura Internacional (CERAI)

International Public figures:

1. Kofi Annan, former secretary general, United Nations
2. Javier Solana, former High Representative of the European Union for the Common
Foreign and Security Policy
3. Michael Douglas, actor
4. José María Figueres, former President of Costa Rica
5. Sybilla, designer
6. Ted Danson, actor
7. Elle MacPherson, model
8. Basilio Baltasar, Director, Fundación Santillana
9. Dr. Enric Sala, investigative scientist of Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) y Ocean Fellow, National Geographic Society
10. Diego Hidalgo, President, Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior (FRIDE)
11. Jordi Bigas, journalist
12. Diego Azqueta, Honorary President, WATU Acción Indígena
13. Sean Cleary, CEO, Strategic Concepts
14. Colin and Livia Firth, actors
15. Jordi Bigas, environmental journalist
16. Víctor Viñuales, Director, Ecología y Desarrollo
17. Pedro Barbadillo, director
18. Rupert Murray, director, The End of the Line
19. George Duffield, producer, The End of the Line
20. Charles Clover, investigative journalist, author of The End of the Line
21. Valeria Golino, actress
22. Baron Eric De Rothschild, banker
23. Greta Scacchi, actress
24. Stephen Fry, actor
25. Dr. Carles Amengual i Vicens, Education Secretary, Liga Médico Homeopática Internacional
26. Yannick y Ben Jakober, artists
27. Irene Peukes, designer
28. Sandy Hemingway, President, Amigos de la Tierra Spain
29. Liliane Spendeler, Director, Áreas Ambientales, Amigos de la Tierra Spain
30. Yolanda Kakabadse, former President, IUCN, and Senior Advisor, Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano
31. Prof. Jacques Marcovitch, former President, Universidad de Sao Paulo
32. Jaume Tapies, chef and President, Relais & Chateaux
33. Musaed Al Saleh, Council member, Earth Council Geneva (ECG)
34. Jacques Perrin, director and producer
35. Tom Aikens, chef
36. Sophie Andrieu, author
37. Joanna Lumley, actress
38. Charles Dance, actor
39. Fiona Shaw, actress
40. Zac Goldsmith, environmental journalist
41. Damian Aspinall, entrepreneur
42. Ben Elliot, entrepreneur
43. Ben and Kate Goldsmith, entrepreneur and envionromentalists
44. Laura Bailey, actress
45. Alan Rickman, actor and director
46. Prince Urbano Barberini, actor
47. Richard E Grant, actor
48. Sophie Dahl, writer and model
49. Emilia Fox, actress
50. Amber Valletta, actress and model


Bluefin tuna ban: France pledges support for CITES listing

New York

A worldwide ban on the trade in the endangered bluefin tuna has moved a step closer after France pledged its support.

Bluefin tuna for sale at a fish market in Japan

Bluefin tuna for sale at a fish market in Japan

In a significant move the French said they would support the listing of bluefin tuna under appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) but with conditions.

French environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo and fisheries minister Bruno Le Maire said they want an 18-month delay before the measures come into force. In return for its support France is also likely to seek an exclusive fishing zone for line-caught tuna as well as financial aid to retrain fishermen who are likely to be laid off.

This will be seen as a sop to the powerful French fishing lobby which has threatened blockades if the ban is imposed. The fishermen’s leaders are also seeking an urgent meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Continue reading ‘Bluefin tuna ban: France pledges support for CITES listing’


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’


The End of the Line used in appeal to European Commission as crucial vote nears

A crucial vote on whether Europe will back a trade ban on the critically-endangered bluefin tuna is expected to be taken on Tuesday.

In advance of the event, the makers of the film The End of the Line, which focuses on the over-fishing of the bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean, have sent an appeal to all 27 European Commissoners asking for them to watch the film and reflect carefully before making their decision. Continue reading ‘The End of the Line used in appeal to European Commission as crucial vote nears’


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.


Political flip-flops on bluefin?

As ICCAT souvenirs, delegates will be packing their bags in Recife with a delightful polo shirt emblazoned with ‘ICCAT’ and a bluefin tuna, and a pair of flip-flops in Brazilian colours.

Somehow this is quite fitting.

The meeting has just come to a close, and the rushed final sessions have agreed as much as they could. In that haste, several things were put off to be considered again next year.

Like the protection of endangered mako and porbeagle sharks, and measures to reduce the bycatch of seabirds and turtles. These sorts of delays are common in ICCAT when agreements can’t be reached. But hey, why do today, what you can put off until next year, right?

But the true legacy of this meeting will be the discussions on bluefin tuna. Much of that discussion clearly happened behind closed doors, with the open sessions us mere observers get to see being something of a rehearsed pantomime for some members.

On the final day a proposal came forward for a quota of bluefin tuna (for the Mediterranean and East Atlantic) for 13-and-a-half thousand tonnes for 2010. That could only have been more unlucky if they’d come forward with it two days earlier, on Friday 13th. It marked a huge drop in quota, and for the first time the bluefin quota was set *within* scientific recommendations.

It’s just a shame they ignored the recent updated scientific recommendations and used last year’s instead. For just three weeks ago, ICCAT’s own scientists showed that not only did Atlantic bluefin meet the criteria to be listed under CITES for a trade ban, but also showed that only a quota as low as 8,000 tonnes would show any chance for the stocks to recover at all. Unsurprisingly the best option for rebuilding the stock was zero quota. All of this meant that the only credible thing ICCAT could do was close the fishery.

They have failed to do that. So perhaps the polo shirts are meant as a commemorative epitaph for a species ICCAT has given up on. In the words of one delegate who was pushing for the fishery to be closed ‘I would like to bid farewell to our good friend, bluefin’.

And the flip flops? Well ‘flip-flop’ was famously used to describe a Presidential candidate in the US for changing his mind, repeatedly. So the question has to be – where now for all of those countries who have stood up and called for effective action on bluefin, or even publicly backed a trade ban? 21 out of 27 EU member states, including the UK and France have done that (although it seems Sarkozy may have already flipped). And does the United States really think that ICCAT has done enough to protect Atlantic bluefin?

If you ask a country’s representative here you will get a stock answer along the lines of ‘oh someone else deals with that’, because fisheries and environment departments are usually conveniently partitioned. So who is going to flip-flop now on bluefin tuna? Can the ICCAT participants put their hand on their hearts (which, conveniently is just where the bluefin is on the polo shirts) and say they’ve done enough here this week?

I don’t think so. The panicked agreements are all about this organisation doing whatever it could to avoid CITES listing, a point that was referred to again and again by interventions around the table. CITES will meet in March 2010, and they may well free up ICCAT’s agenda next year if they do agree an international trade ban, as they desperately need to.

As we now bid farewell to Brazil, we are tempted to do more than just wave our flip-flops on the way out of the meeting.


Analysis: a failure of governance dooms the bluefin tuna

Let’s be absolutely clear. The people whose task it is to manage the bluefin tuna stocks of the Atlantic have failed once again, even under the eyes of the world, to take the advice of their own scientists. They should now be brushed aside.

The Atlantic tuna commission, meeting in Porto de Galinhas, Brazil, has agreed a proposal to drop the catch limit for bluefin tuna in the Eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean next year from 19,500 tons to 13,500 tons.

I was at the meeting and interviewed the chief scientist of the commission, Dr Gerald P Scott and he told me that in the present uncertain state of bluefin stocks – which in layman’s terms are in a state of collapse - 15,000 tons doesn’t meet the commission’s recovery plan which looks for a 50 per cent chance of recovery by 2023.

The paper Dr Scott showed to the meeting showed that only a 8500 ton quota might have a chance of meeting the commission’s remarkably weak objective for recovery. Only a total closure of the fishery yielded a significant chance of the bluefin recovering from a serious threat of commercial extinction.

So the proposal for a 13,500 ton quota by the chairman of the meeting, supported by the EU, Japan, Morocco and Tunisia, is a political quota, not a scientific one. It is far too high. No wonder the United States did not support it. No wonder the environmentalists are portraying it as a failure. The only silver lining is that this decision could, just conceivably, lead to the management of the bluefin being taken away from the tuna commission.

Susan Lieberman of the Pew Environment Group, a US-based not-for-profit organisation, responded to the news by saying: “When you adjust the new catch limit to account for over-fishing and rampant illegal fishing by some countries and add in ICCAT’s poor enforcement and compliance record, the prospects for the recovery of the once-abundant Atlantic bluefin are dismal.”

No one is that surprised, though. For it has turned out that the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) was mis-named, for it has never once taken scientific advice literally in its 40-year history as you will see from my article in the Sunday Times.

The result of the meeting is now likely to increase demands for international trade in bluefin to be banned by being listed on Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the same provision that was used to save the African elephant in the 1980s after an epidemic of ivory poaching.

The EU was unable to agree to support such a listing in September, with the six Mediterranean nations forming a blocking minority and 21 nations in favour. That decision is likely to have to be formally revisited now before the CITES meeting in Doha next March.

The ICCAT meeting formally identified nearly all the countries catching bluefin for breaking the rules – a new thing – one of the most common infringements was tuna fattening farms accepting fish without proper documentation to show that they had been legally caught.

Despite a week spent at the five-star resort, delegates were unable to agree on measures to protect vulnerable shark species. They did agree to ban the retention and landing of bigeye threshers, one of the slowest growing and most vulnerable sharks, but allowed Mexico an exemption to catch 110 of them. They put off until next year any consideration of measures to prevent 12,500 vulnerable seabirds being caught by tuna long-line fleets.

In a further instance of what environmentalists were portraying as overall failure, officials among the Atlantic nations endorsed the use of “wall of death” drift nets by Morocco for another two years.

Moroccan fishermen are estimated to kill 4,000 dolphins and 25,000 sharks in their drift nets each year. Drift nets have been banned internationally by the UN since 1992.

Dr Sergi Tudela of the environmental group, WWF, said: “This year all contracting parties talked of the need to restore ICCAT’s credibility, and to do so they endorse the slaughter of 50,000 more sharks and 8,000 more dolphins, violating UN resolutions?

“It is beyond belief and is one more proof of the total dysfunction of ICCAT as a serious fisheries management organisation.”

No comment was available from the ICCAT contracting parties or the European Commission last night on the decisions made at the meeting.


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.