Political flip-flops on bluefin?

Posted by Willie — 16 November 2009 at 10:36am - Comments

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 discussion on bluefin tuna. Much of that 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 13,500 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.

Only three weeks ago, ICCAT’s own scientists showed that not only did Atlantic bluefin meet the criteria to be listed as endangered by CITES (which would mean 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 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.

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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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