The Bluefin Tuna, that magnificent thousand-pound-plus, ocean-crossing, warm-blooded fish, is headed toward extinction in the western part of the Atlantic Ocean, that is, off the east coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. And this week the European Union agreed to what amounts to a plan for its collapse in the east Atlantic and Mediterranean.
The fishery managers call it a recovery plan.
Bluefin Tuna fishery managers live in Opposite Land. Opposite #1 is: “recovery plan” really means the fishery managers have agreed to an excessive quota that will lead to deepening depletion.
Bluefin Tuna fishing in the Atlantic is ostensibly managed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. Thanks to this Commission, virtually every tuna, shark, and marlin species in the Atlantic is at all-time low numbers. This “conservation” Commission does not conserve; it does the opposite.
Its record with Bluefin Tuna is its worst. Its fishing quotas have always been far too high. And many of its 40-plus member nations routinely fish well past even these excessive quotas. Way back in 1982, the Commission enacted a “30-year recovery plan” for the west Atlantic. In 1998 the Commission came up with a new “20-year recovery plan” because, deep into the 30-year recovery period, west-Atlantic Bluefin were at an all-time low. The new recovery plan included several increases in the allowed catch. Now, the fish are so depleted that in 2006, U.S. commercial fishers caught only about ten percent of the allowed catch. Not that they weren’t trying; in 2001 a 444-pound bluefin tuna sold wholesale in Japan for $173,600. These insane prices result in such political pressure to avoid effective catch limits that managers do exactly the opposite of what they should do, and say the opposite of what they’re doing.
In the east Atlantic and Mediterranean, Bluefin fishing is largely out of control. Quotas are far above what scientists are recommending, and the numbers of fish killed are far above the quotas. So this week, after some tough talk by the European Union’s fisheries commissioner about the need to put a moratorium on fishing for Bluefin, he brokered the following deal that implements recommendations of the 43-member-nation tuna Commission: after scientists advised a catch limit of 15,000 tons, the agreed catch limit will be almost exactly twice that much. The European Union’s share of that catch will increase from 9,000 tons this year to 16,000 tons (source: Charles Clover, Daily Telegraph 6-12-07). Like I said, they live in Opposite Land. They’re calling it: the recovery plan.
Of course, it’s not a recovery plan, it’s a collapse plan. On our side of the ocean, the collapse is already upon the Bluefin because the Atlantic Tuna Commission and national fishery managers have always bowed to the same greed and political pressure to feed the same insatiable Japanese sushi market. The Bluefin of the east Atlantic and Mediterranean will likely follow. It may be poetic justice that the greed of fishers in the western Atlantic is turning to bankruptcy, and it will be a form of justice that this will likely happen in the east. But it seems there is no justice for the Bluefin itself, a magnificent animal whose only fault was to excel every other fish in the sea.