Britain takes up tuna's cause

Government joins forces with France to press for global ban on sale of bluefin

A A A

Britain is to join France lobbying governments around the world for an international ban on the sale of the bluefin tuna, which is on the brink of extinction after years of over-fishing.

The fisheries minister Huw Irranca-Davies told The Independent the UK would back and seek support in Washington and other international capitals for a proposal to ban the fish at Cites (the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species).

France, which has a bigger bluefin fishing fleet than anyone else, also announced yesterday it would back a Cites ban, bringing a a real prospect that the fish – which will be wiped out in the Mediterranean by 2012, according to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) – may be saved.

Speaking of the need to protect global fish stocks, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said: "Ours is the last generation with the ability to take action before it's too late."

Wildlife groups were elated at support for the ban, which would bypass management by the fisheries body in charge of the bluefin tuna, Iccat (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas), which has been roundly derided for its failure to protect the fish.

However it is almost certain to put the UK on a collision course with Japan, where bluefin is highly-prized as sushi and sashimi. A single fish can fetch $100,000 [£60,800] in Tokyo, making it the most expensive food on earth.

Motivated by the bounty, organised crime in Italy is believed to be involved in the Mediterranean fishery, which is believed to land 60,000 tons of bluefin a year, almost treble the legal catch and four times the amount recommended by scientists. Concern has grown this summer following the screening of the docu-film The End of the Line, which presented the bluefin as the starkest example of 21st Century over-fishing.

Nobu, the Japanese restaurant chain, attracted criticism for continuing to serve the fish at its eateries in London, despite acknowledging on its menu that it was a "vulnerable" and advising diners to choose an alternative.

Monaco, the tiny Mediterranean principality, has been privately canvassing support for a Cites ban during recent weeks. Speaking to The Independent, Mr Irranca-Davies said: "We've been in some discussions with Monaco to see how that proposal is progressing. Our biodversity unit has been talking with their counterparts in Monaco and other Cites member states – the US and Canada – to see whether there's any appetite for proposing this action and what form it might take.

"Now we've had sight of the proposals in the last day or so, I can confirm that the UK will support a Cites listing of bluefin tuna. We do think this is not a substitute for Iccat and the work it does, but we are pleased to give that proposal for Cites listing our strong support. We hope that others will come on board as well."

Providing it attracts sufficient support, Monaco will table its resolution by 17 October for Cites's meeting in Doha, in Qatar, in March. A ban – requiring a two-thirds majority – would take effect 90 days later, ending the annual summer bluefin hunt.

Asked whether he was braced for a fight with Japan, Mr Irranca-Davies said: "I don't think we need to get into a fight over this. There will be people for whom this bluefin tuna is important either as a consumer nation or as a fishing nation, but what we cannot get away from is the stark evidence that is staring us in the face."

Willie MacKenzie, Greenpeace oceans campaigner, said: "It's fantastic the UK is taking such a strong stance on bluefin by backing the listing on Cites, and it's one that an increasingly-aware British public will welcome. Not only does this show the UK's understanding of the severity of the problem, but it must compel other countries, notably the US, to follow suit. Bluefin tuna are the blue whales of our time, and have been relentlessly over-exploited for far too long."

"This iconic species has long disappeared from UK waters and we need to ensure the same does not happen in the Mediterranean," said Sally Bailey, marine programme manager at WWF, who praised the UK's "great step forward."

Charles Clover, author of the book The End of the Line, while also welcoming the action, said there was evidence that bluefin tuna of breeding age had already been fished out.

"France is one of the nations principally responsible for wiping it out," he said. "There are no mature spawners on the Japanese market. A third of the fish that are being sold are under the legal size."

"What's coming together now is that everybody knows there's no fish left in the sea. They probably caught them all in 2007, while we were filming it. This is Europe's great fisheries disaster."

Suggested Topics
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Life and Style
Men with beards rejoice: Your beard probably doesn't harbour faeces-like bacteria
health
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before