Sushi wars: Battle looms over bluefin tuna
Thursday 11 March 2010
The fate of Atlantic bluefin tuna, eaten to the edge of viability, will be decided in the next two weeks when the world's nations vote on whether to ban cross-border trade in the dwindling species.
A proposal by Monaco, backed by the United States and the European Union, would place the open-water predator in Annex I of the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which meets in Doha, Qatar on March 13-25.
Any steps to remove the ban would depend on the species' capacity to regenerate, which experts say could take a decade or more.
Industrial-scale harvesting on the high-seas has caused bluefin stocks to crash by more than two-thirds in the Mediterranean and by 80 percent in the western Atlantic.
The reason is not hard to find: a single 220-kilo (485-pound) fish can fetch 160,000 dollars (120,000 euros) at auction in Japan, which consumes three-quarters of all the bluefin caught in the world, mainly as sushi and sashimi.
At those prices, the incentive to overfish - and cheat on poorly enforced quotas - is overwhelming, say experts.
The tools of the trade have developed apace. So-called longlines trailing 100 kilometres or more behind trawlers have proven devastatingly effective in vacuuming up bluefin, which can reach four metres (13 feet) in length.
The French marine research institute IFREMER, citing industry scientists, calculated that the capacity of tuna flotillas trolling the Mediterranean "surpasses the reproduction capacity of the resource" by a factor of two to three.
Three countries alone - France, Italy and Spain - account for more than 50 percent of catches.
Up until 2008, when the catch fell by half, annual hauls were 50,000 to 60,000 tonnes.
"If trade is stopped in Doha, all the scientists agree that bluefin tuna can recover," said Sue Lieberman, policy director for the Pew Environment Group in Washington.
"Another two-to-five years of overfishing, and they won't."
For the last 50 years, the management of bluefin populations has been self-policed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, or ICAAT, an industry group.
"ICAAT has demonstrated on an annual basis its inability to listen to the scientists and control the fishing," said Carl Safina, founder of the Blue Ocean Institute in New York state.
As recently as the 1980s, bluefin were so numerous they were like "the buffalo herds in the virgin prairies of America," he said, recalling his own past as a professional fisherman.
"An international ban is essential if we ever want to see the species recover," he said.
Still, the measure to ban international commerce is headed for fierce resistance, and faces an uphill battle if it is to gather the two-thirds vote needed for passage.
"There's going to be a huge fight," said one senior European negotiator in favour of the ban, asking not to be named.
"Japan is extremely determined. We have seen them in action at the International Whaling Commission, where we have witnessed unexplainable reversals of position by certain countries," he said.
China and Canada are also likely to oppose the ban, analysts say.
For 2010, ICAAT has lowered the permissible global catch to 13,500 tonnes.
"If the new quota were to be respected for several years, there would be no more scientific justification for banning international trade in the fish," said Alain Fonteneau, a marine biologist at France's Institute for Development Research in Montpellier.
But critics say this may be too little too late, and that the industry has proven that it is unwilling or unable to enforce its own measures.
"ICAAT has been responsible for bluefin tuna since the 1960s, and every year it has continued to decline, in some places by 90 percent," said Lieberman.
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
The magicians using online collaboration to push boundaries
lifeIt takes year-long dedication to get Selfridges ready for 25 December. And they're already working on plans for 2015...
Jennifer Lawrence attacks mass media again over body image
- 1 America's 'virgin births'? One in 200 mothers 'became pregnant without having sex'
- 2 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 3 Ian Watkins: Police forces probed over earlier allegations as paedophile Lostprophets singer sentenced to 35 years for child sex offences
- 4 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber announces he's 'retiring from music'
- 5 Children evacuated from swimming pool after prosthetic leg mistaken for paedophile
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
You can STILL be jailed for being a republican, government confirms, and it remains illegal to even 'imagine' overthrowing the Queen
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
Fighting back: the woman giving a voice (and 49,999 others) to the victims of sexism - by giving an airing to their horror stories
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
Ethan Couch: Texas quadruple murderer – or a victim of ‘affluenza’?
- < Previous
- Next >
£60000 - £75000 per annum + Bonus and Benefits: Harrington Starr: A leading au...
£79000 - £93000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: Commercial Property Associat...
£25000 - £32000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Business Analyst - Banking...
£21999 - £27001 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have exten...