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All eyes on France, as tuna wars loom

Richard Black | 17:34 UK time, Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Paris and Brussels are presently seeing skirmishes over the fate of what's become the oceans' most iconic creature - the Atlantic bluefin tuna.

This week and next, the French capital hosts the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (Iccat) - the organisation charged with ensuring this species and many others are fished sustainably, but which has in conservationists' eyes so badly mismanaged its task over the years as to garner the alternative appellation of the International Conspiracy to Catch All Tunas.

Tuna protest


Earlier this year, Iccat's scientific advisers said continuing at this year's catch level of 13,500 tonnes was feasible but only carried about a 60% chance of rebuilding stocks by 2022.

You can call this a 40% chance of failure, if you want.

The European Commissioner for fisheries, Maria Damanaki, has suggested going for 6,000 tonnes a year.

But French agriculture and fisheries minister Bruno Le Maire said France is holding out for the full 13,500, which he described as "recommended by scientists".

He also said French fishermen were "the most controlled, the most responsible and the most respectable" in the Mediterranean.

This was not endorsed by a report on a new Iccat scheme to monitor catches, which emerged a couple of months ago, and found that as things stand, it's basically impossible to determine the true size of the annual catch.

Other EU countries, meanwhile, would prefer a catch of zero, at least for a few years, while stocks rebuild.

At the time of writing, this EU divide is being addressed in Brussels, as national representatives try to agree a common position.

Word is that the "pro-fishing" group has been meeting in one room, and "pro-fish" countries in another not a scenario that suggests a meeting of minds is imminent.

A couple of other factors need to be thrown into the mix here.

One is the position of the US, which has in recent years pushed a zero quota.

But following the results of the mid-term elections, the Gulf of Mexico oil leak (which may have badly affected bluefin spawning there) and the stalling of climate negotiations, the Obama administration is not in as firm a position as it might wish to push any environmental agenda aggressively.

Sushi chef prepares sushi from a bluefin tuna


Nevertheless, Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), is currently in Europe to talk with other delegations about tuna.

The other big player is Japan, where 80% of bluefin is eaten.

Its officials have long warned about mis-management of the Mediterrannean stock.

And earlier this year, the Mitsubishi group of companies, which controls most of the bluefin trade in Japan, issued a statement indicating it supported strong measures to preserve the fishery.

Reportedly, it has enough bluefin in its freezers to survive a year or two without new meat arriving.

And its statement - hard to find on its website, but nestling in my in-box - is pretty strong:

"[We acknowledge] that the BFT stocks in the Mediterranean are over-fished...we support and urge that, as a minimum, scientific recommendations are strictly followed in the management of runa populations...

"We endorse calls for the establishment of a BFT spawning sanctuary around the Balearic Islands and an immediate ban on BFT fishing around the Islands... [we call] on the Japan Fisheries Agency to not back down from the leadership role that the global community now expects it to fulfil..."

Intriguingly, a pre-Iccat seminar in Paris convened by environmental groups heard suggestions that a new alliance was emerging against the big fishermen - an alliance of small-scale artisanal fishers, environmental groups and (by extension) supportive governments.

If Ms Damanaki's vision turned to reality, this might be the outcome: 6,000 tonnes per year for artisanal fishers, and nothing for the big purse seine boats whose modus operandi is to scoop up huge agglomerations of bluefin as they come together for spawning.

France only has 17 purse seine boats, operating for about one month in 12. Yet the political force they and their counterparts in other countries wield is still significant.

Last month, at the UN biodiversity summit, the EU proclaimed itself a champion of nature and vowed to take the economic value of biodiversity and ecosystems into account when taking political decisions.

This year's Iccat meeting, some are arguing, is the first real test of this commitment.


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  • 1. At 8:02pm on 17 Nov 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    "Last month, at the UN biodiversity summit, the EU proclaimed itself a champion of nature and vowed to take the economic value of biodiversity and ecosystems into account when taking political decisions."

    Yes they did... as long as it enriches the EU elite.

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  • 2. At 12:21pm on 18 Nov 2010, Smiffie wrote:

    The number of posts on this topic compared to the number of posts on the last topic is clear indication of the importance of that people attach to biodiversity and to climate issues. With climate change being so yesterday, what will Richard do as biodiversity will not sustain him.

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  • 3. At 2:00pm on 18 Nov 2010, plasticmanc wrote:

    I like fish :-)

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  • 4. At 2:23pm on 18 Nov 2010, GeoffWard wrote:

    It is in the interests of the big purse-seiners to avoid a moratorium - which is most easily monitored and creates bankrupcy. An agreed (lower) level of exploitation allows all parties to carry on under-reporting, erroneously under-estimating, amending documentation, and blatently lying.
    I am fully aware that this might act to the detriment of the French, but were this to come about the French would pragmatically return the the illegal practices of everybody else that they have so recently 'rejected'.

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  • 5. At 11:32pm on 18 Nov 2010, Yorkurbantree wrote:

    Post 1: "as long as it enriches the EU elite"

    While you may be simply motivated by greed and the hunger for power, don't assume everyone else is...

    Post 2:

    Well I can't speak for anyone but myself, I prefer these sort of blog posts as the AGW stuff is more likely to be picked up by other media. Not being an expert on fish quotas, I have nothing to add to the article above. Geoff Ward makes some good points though.

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  • 6. At 2:11pm on 19 Nov 2010, rossglory wrote:

    #2 smiffie

    the reason there are so few posts is because there is no bizarre anti-science, anti-biodiversity lobby that denies biodiversity is being threatened.

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  • 7. At 00:52am on 20 Nov 2010, callisto wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 8. At 09:18am on 20 Nov 2010, Barry Woods wrote:

    Language like iconic, I'm afraid has just turned most people off from listening, their have been so many IPCC poster childs, that the bio-diversity ones will no work.

    6: you sound like Gordon Brown......

    Millions of the world's poor are being threatened with being kept in poverty and denied the benefits of technology, because of an environmentalis western guilt complex, that turned aGW into the CAGW delusion

    PS, if anybody has any contacts at big oil, I'm overdue a larg cheque..
    As for the name of the website, I could not resist....

    I don't think Richard need worry aboout his paid day job just yet...

    Early days, I may even write about Tuna.

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  • 9. At 11:41am on 20 Nov 2010, GeoffWard wrote:

    The best way to conserve the Blue Fin Tuna from extinction is by use of genetic manipulation.
    The Japanese market will drop right away if the Blowfish toxin gene is translocated to the Tuna.

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  • 10. At 12:43pm on 20 Nov 2010, blunderbunny wrote:


    That's actually quite funny ;-)

    On a more serious note, I think maybe farming is a more likely way forwards, I seem to recall that there's been some moves forwards in Blue Fin Tuna farming recently. They used to be difficult to farm because they need/like strong currents. But the new farming technique created strong circular currents in deep cylindrical pools, bit like a hamster/gerbil wheel, but for fish. Not ideal, but better than taking wild Tuna to the point of extinction. I don't think it's cheap, but then neither is Blue Fin Tuna. Plus, I guess one might even be able to establish some form of captive breeding program to help re-populate the seas ............

    Still, I don't want to take anything away from introducing transgenic neurotoxins............. Though given, the Japanese propensity for extreme game shows it might have the opposite effect ;-)


    One of the Lobby

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  • 11. At 2:54pm on 20 Nov 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @rossglory #6
    (@smiffie #2)

    Calm before the storm.

    Some idiot (or cynical money type) is setting up a version of biodiversity trading modelled on carbon trading. (As if carbon trading works. (Blows raspberry at carbon traders.))

    It's only a matter of time before a biodiversity sceptic explains why the loss of flightless pigeons in Mauritius is a good thing.

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  • 12. At 3:37pm on 20 Nov 2010, BillinNY wrote:

    "It's only a matter of time before a biodiversity sceptic explains why the loss of flightless pigeons in Mauritius is a good thing."

    Ok, It has been well documented that flying pigeons will deliberately target newly washed automobiles for their droppings. The flightless pigeons of Maurtius do the same, but they also leave scratch marks along the sides of the cars as they climb up to the windshield and hood, thus inflicting twice the damage of their airborne kin.

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  • 13. At 4:16pm on 20 Nov 2010, Brunnen wrote:

    It looks like no one cares about tuna.

    But why? Well, you can blame the greenies for this one. They told us polar bears are on the verge of extinction. They're not. Over the last 60 years the polar bear population has increased five fold.

    They told us the Himalyan glaciers were melting like a wet witch in Oz and would be gone in 35 years. They won't. The IPCC has been forced to admit they were wrong and the glaciers will be there for centuries to come.

    And now we're supposed to believe our wicked western ways are going to wipe out blue fin tuna, ruining tuna melt snadwiches everywhere.

    Well sorry, but greenies cried wolf too many times to be believable. Tuna populations may very well be declining, the blue fin might well be being fished to extinction. If doesn't matter. If the messenger isn't credible, the message will be ignored.

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  • 14. At 5:12pm on 20 Nov 2010, blunderbunny wrote:

    @JaneBasingstoke #11

    Sorry Jane, but isn't that the sort of cheap shot that you normally criticize others for?

    Some sort of general apology, might be in order.

    Not that it personally bothers me, but we've got to keep your standards up, haven't we?


    One of the Lobby

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  • 15. At 6:41pm on 20 Nov 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @blunderbunny #14

    To clarify.

    1. The first part of my #11 is not a dig at AGW sceptics. It is a dig at the idiocy of using carbon trading as a model to help fix biodiversity, when the costs of carbon trading seem to outweigh its alleged benefits.

    2. There is a big range of AGW sceptics out there. You've seen my posts. I defend the sensible ones who contribute intellectually to the debate. I defend the well meaning ones.

    But I can give plenty of examples of difficult ones who give you lot a bad name. I think the rest of us recognising difficult sceptics exist helps the good guys on your side more than ignoring the difficult guys, particularly as many on my side of the debate are more exposed to your difficult guys than your helpful ones.

    Yes I acknowledge there are difficult people on my side too. And that your side is probably more exposed to our difficult guys than our helpful ones.

    Clarification over. Now do you still want an apology?

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  • 16. At 6:45pm on 20 Nov 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    blunderbunny #14: Some sort of general apology, might be in order.

    Don't do it Jane! -- "Never apologize, never explain!"

    (Although I have to admit I'm wondering who these "biodiversity sceptics" might be, suspecting I must be one of them in your eyes?)

    Yours sincerely looking forward to the extinction of the polio virus, bowmanthebard.

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  • 17. At 7:13pm on 20 Nov 2010, Yorkurbantree wrote:

    Post 13 ably demonstrates the that not all people writing anti-environmental material on the internet are being paid by lobbying firms. The idea that someone would be getting paid to write garbage like that is obviously absurd. Elsewhere on the BBC News website this week, Brunnen blames the NHS for the obesity epidemic, blames Peter Tatchell for discrimination against gay people and berates Water Aid for their ongoing efforts to pollute all water sources in Africa...

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  • 18. At 10:59pm on 20 Nov 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    Fun fact. There is more biodiversity in Canada than there was a century ago. So one must be careful about making gross generalizations, as always.

    Everybody does know that biodiversity is a reflection of habitat diversity, don't they?

    So, for example, when you plant hedgerows on what was once endless prairie you increase it. True, it is not the same as it was under so-called 'natural' conditions but that is entirely irrelevant.

    Tuna. Like cod, a classic example of the 'tragedy of the commons.' We in Canada know about that because the EU fishermen (notably the Spanish)were largely responsible for destroying the cod stocks off Newfoundland with their fish-mining outside Candian boundaries.

    And on another topic this relates to tuna... and is essential reading for anyone who actually has an open inquiring mind about the dynamics of climate change:

    Even those who are hopelessly entrenched in the simplistic AGW dogma will find this fascinating, and the comments and discussion which follow it just add to it.

    It could explain all the climate change we have seen lately.

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  • 19. At 11:02pm on 20 Nov 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @bowmanthebard #16

    "biodiversity sceptic"

    There is a definite faction amongst AGW sceptics that does not trust anything to do with environmentalists, and they are already calling "foul" over biodiversity. Some of these people don't live anywhere near areas affected by recent loss of biodiversity.

    Here's a moderate example of a biodiversity sceptic.

    My reaction to Eschenbach's piece is "apples and oranges". Eschenbach has chosen a category that was especially vulnerable to 18th and 19th Century exploration techniques such as us spreading rats and cats to islands and taking advantage of the free grub that was the Great Auk.

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  • 20. At 11:06pm on 20 Nov 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @bowmanthebard #16

    "extinction of the polio virus"

    Yup. Definitely want that one extinct, at least in the wild. But such pathogens are the exception that prove the rule.

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  • 21. At 11:16pm on 20 Nov 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    15. JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    "The first part of my #11 is... a dig at the idiocy of using carbon trading as a model to help fix biodiversity, when the costs of carbon trading seem to outweigh its alleged benefits."

    Benefits to whom? Follow the money. Like the AGW project, none of this is actually about the environment except as an incidental benefit, perhaps.

    As for carbon trading, while the EU is still pursuing that corrupt scheme it has died its well deserved death in the U.S.

    "As we reported almost two weeks ago, the Gore and Pachauri advised Chicago Carbon Exchange (CCX) has closed. Closing price? A nickel per ton of CO2."

    Poor Gore and his Goldman Sachs partners lost money... boo, hoo.

    And as if it could not get any worse for the AGW gang, this twit just created the final nail in its coffin in America:

    "Lord Stern: Deny the whole USA trade if you don’t play the AGW game"

    Remember the movie 'The Mouse That Roared'? Tooooo funny.

    In any case, in terms of public relations this kind of absurdly hollow threat will have the opposite effect than what this silly man intended. And in terms of economic reality he seems to be living in 1910.

    I guess the EU will need to boycott Canada too, and China, India and Russia.

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  • 22. At 11:31pm on 20 Nov 2010, CanadianRockies wrote:

    #19. JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    "Here's a moderate example of a biodiversity sceptic.

    My reaction to Eschenbach's piece is "apples and oranges". Eschenbach has chosen a category that was especially vulnerable to 18th and 19th Century exploration techniques such as us spreading rats and cats to islands and taking advantage of the free grub that was the Great Auk."

    Sorry Jane, but for North America that article is dead on. The real extinction crisis was ca. 1900... which was when the conservation movement really started.

    Just look at Hornaday's book again, and compare his predicted extinctions with the current state of those populations.

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