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Atlantic bluefin tuna
Montreal Gazette, November 23, 2010

Reckless disregard for the world's tuna

The 48-country agency that is supposed to assure the sustainability of Atlantic tuna has caved in to certain Mediterranean states, putting aside scientific evidence to approve continued large catches. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, meeting in Paris, has dealt a damaging blow to true sustainability.

ICCAT's own scientific advisers say that continuing the current total catch quota of 13,500 tonnes would provide only a 60 per cent chance of rebuilding stocks (which have fallen by at least 70 per cent since 1970) by 2022. That's bad enough but the unspoken reality is that enforcemen t is so bad that the quotas are at best pious wishes; nobody knows how much tuna is truly being taken.

The European Commission's fisheries chief, Maria Damanaki of Greece, responsibly proposed a cut to 6,000 tonnes for this year, a proposal ICCAT has rejected, after pressure from France, Spain, Italy, and Malta (ICCAT governs Mediterranean as well as Atlantic tuna fisheries. Western stocks are under less pressure than eastern populations but the two mingle in mid-ocean and ICCAT lumps the two together for quota purposes. Canada's industry is well-regarded as carefully policed, a phrase not applied to southern-European practices.)

Fisheries management is an endless battle between conservation and profit, governed by the "tragedy of the commons" in which resources without owners have nobody to protect them. ICCAT is an attempt to solve that problem.

There are various proposals to protect eastern bluefin stocks: a ban on purse-seining, a protected breeding ground around the Balearic Islands, and others.

A proposed ban on international sale of the fish, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, was killed last spring. That idea was opposed by Japan, which now imports most of the world's bluefin catch. The Japanese now propose a ban on international sale of over-quota catch, another idea based on the fond illusion of meaningful quotas.

Remember the reckless insouciance of some European governments the next time you hear them denounce Canada's seal hunt. The Europeans are consistent in that they have ignored the science in both cases, and of course seals are furry and cuddly, whereas tuna are cold-blooded and slimy.

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