ICCAT: complying through gritted teeth

Posted by Willie — 15 November 2009 at 7:16pm - Comments

The vultures were literally circling overhead as we approached the ICCAT meeting venue this morning… so something is on its last legs.

So, with just one day of the ICCAT meeting left, it’s time to see what has been achieved here this week. The short answer is ‘not a lot’. Despite a week of meetings, including extra, lengthy, evening sessions, virtually nothing has been decided on or agreed yet. Decisions on quotas for fish like bluefin tuna, protection of sharks and seabirds, are being left until the last minute, and all need to be discussed on the last day.

This wouldn’t be so frustrating if the week’s discourse had been more constructive. Don’t get me wrong, undoubtedly there are many at the ICCAT meeting who are working very hard and very long hours, but the system is so fundamentally flawed that it gives us little hope for very positive outcomes.

Little wonder, perhaps, that articles in today's (London) Times and New York Times poured a great deal of scorn on the whole process.

For days we have heard over and over how ICCAT must regain credibility, and for days we have seen some meaningless ping-pong across the tables as countries blamed each other whilst coming up with perfectly valid reasons why they could not be blamed themselves. It’s akin to a class of school kids explaining in turn where their homework is – you know the kind of thing, ‘dog ate it’, ‘mum put it in the washing machine’, ‘it blew away on the way to school’. Individually every excuse seems plausible. Collectively it means ICCAT has a very, very long way to go.

Last night saw, what was in ICCAT terms, a major step, with countries accepting letters of admonishment when they had not complied with the conservation and enforcement measures they had undertaken to do. A letter home from teacher, if you like. To us, this is pretty lame, but to them it is the first time countries are acknowledging formally that they have not done what they should. Trouble is, of course, the parties to ICCAT are here representing their own governments, and quite possibly have a note from their mum too. Personally, I blame the parents.

All this complying through gritted teeth is hugely frustrating. This week we have seen bizarre acceptances of others wrong-doing (and praise for them admitting it) and even some tacit derogations for a couple of countries to do what they want on hugely controversial issues. Remember driftnets, anyone? Fancy killing a few endangered species?

Ultimately, my impression from this meeting is to feel despondent, and I am even more convinced that there need to be a fundamental reforms of the way we ‘manage’ (and I use the word quite scornfully) our oceans. This gradual way of improving the systems we have bit by bit, issue by issue, year by year, just is not enough. The damage we are doing is happening far faster than our willingness to change.

So yes, we need drastic measures. That means setting large areas off-limits to fishing as Marine Reserves, and the bigger the better. It also means banning certain ways of fishing, and banning fishing for certain species altogether. And it means actually enforcing things too, with legal and financial consequences.

If we don’t start doing this on a huge scale, we will have lost not only our credibility, and our homework, but many irreplaceable species and livelihoods too.

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About Willie

Hi, I'm Willie, part of the Greenpeace UK biodiversity team. I work mostly on oceans and fishy issues.

Twitter: @williemackenzie

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