sustainable ……but….. á la carte

published February 20, 2010 under the title :

“Sustainable ….. but … a way.”


When the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Conference of the Parties meets in Doha next March it will consider a proposal that will mean that international trading of bluefin tuna will be banned.

The European Parliament, on February 10, approved a motion for a resolution, which, among other matters, urged the EU Commission and member states to support the ban on international trade in bluefin tuna in view of the depletion of natural stocks of this species.

A total of 320 MEPs voted in favour; 271 voted against. Four of the Maltese MEPs voted against the ban and the fifth, David Casa, was absent when voting took place.

The ban is being proposed as bluefin tuna is on the verge of extinction. It is being fished at a rate far above its natural regeneration. The Principality of Monaco stressed, when presenting its submissions justifying the ban back in July 2009, that coordinated intervention is long overdue.

The Principality of Monaco has argued that bluefin tuna stock in the Mediterranean has declined by more than 74 per cent between 1957 and 2007, the bulk of it in the last decade. Meanwhile, tuna stock in the west Atlantic has plunged by 83 per cent between 1970 and 2007.

The ban will affect industrial fishing and tuna ranching. It will not affect fishing for bluefin tuna for local consumption. It will, undoubtedly, affect large-scale fishing, including those operations based in Maltese waters. Lobbying on behalf of these operators and their Japanese partners has been very evident. The political positions taken by a number of Mediterranean countries, including Malta, is also clearly the result of lobbying by the industry, which has wide interests straddling opposite shores of the Mediterranean.

The Principality of Monaco in the draft resolution submitted to the CITES Secretariat for discussion during the Doha Conference of the Parties stated that, notwithstanding recommendations by the Standing Committee on Research and Statistics of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) that tuna catches should not exceed 15,000t per annum, quotas far in excess of this recommendation were approved: 22,000t for 2009, 19,950t for 2010 and 18,500t for 2011.

The Principality of Monaco also emphasised that it is known that the international fishing fleet capacity is, at least, double that needed to catch the current legal quota, which fact leads to serious doubts on quota enforcement and the under-reporting of catches.

The average size of the bluefin tuna has been reduced substantially over the years from 220kg to 145kg as overfishing is not permitting tuna to develop to its mature size.

Japan, a major consumer, consumes 43,000t of bluefin tuna annually. Half of this is acquired from the Pacific Ocean, the rest from other parts of the world.

It is a known fact that quotas are widely ignored and only a ban on international trade will allow stocks to recover. This will take time to be achieved.

The international environmental NGO WWF, through its Mediterranean Programme, has since 2008 embarked on a programme aimed at saving the Mediterranean bluefin tuna from extinction. It has adopted a three-pronged approach, namely addressing fishing methods, consumer awareness and through lobbying national governments in order that they observe the agreed quotas. The programme is ongoing and it aims to improve the management measures recommended by scientists.

Opposition to the ban is short-sighted politics. It is myopic as it focuses on short-term economic gains and ignores the long-term social, economic and ecological impacts of the collapse of tuna stocks. The social impacts on families dependent on international trade in bluefin tuna have to be addressed through adequate social programmes as their livelihood is in peril due to its depending on an unsustainable activity. Opposition to the ban will not, however, do them any good as it will just postpone facing the music by not more than five years.

Malta has been one of the states resisting the international demand for an international trade ban on bluefin tuna. The Maltese government has opposed the call for such a ban in all fora. Even the opposition Labour Party has supported the PN-led government in defending the unsustainable fishing of bluefin tuna. Maltese MEPs have obliged by taking a stand against the ban.

Yet, both the PN and the PL in Malta speak in favour of sustainable development. Most probably they mean sustainable… but… á la carte, that is, speaking profusely about it but simultaneously proceeding with business as usual.

The Greens in Malta have been the only political voice in favour of sustainable fishing, in favour of protecting marine biodiversity as well as defending traditional fishing methods in opposition to the havoc generated by industrial fishing.

It is too late in the day to expect the government to be consistent. The Labour opposition is no better.