The bluefin disaster – if they needed our help why didn’t they ask? By: Charles Clover

By Charles Clover     in Doha

I don’t think I am alone in thinking that we need a post-mortem to establish what went wrong with the campaign in support of Monaco’s proposal for a listing of the bluefin tuna under Cites Appendix 1.

It seems fairly clear that while Japan and its allies perceived a danger to their interests from Cites listing and began campaigning against it as long ago as last year, the EU and the US remained preoccupied with divisions within their own borders until a late stage and did not grasp the strength of the alliance ranged against them.

That seems a pretty serious mistake by anyone’s standards.  Anyone with a sense of history would have looked up the chapters in Carl Safina’s book, Song For the Blue Ocean, about how Sweden’s 1992 proposed Appendix II listing of the bluefin came to be abandoned, and learned the lessons of what Japan did then.  It seems fairly clear that Japan ran a fairly similar campaign this time.  Indeed, the head of its delegation, the charming but ruthless Masanori Miyahara, chief counselor to the Fisheries Agency of Japan is a veteran of Japan’s
successful 1992 campaign.  Did the UK, the strongest advocate of a listing in Europe, or the US not mobilize similar expertise from that time?  I am inclined to suspect not.

Did Britain, Ireland, Norway, Germany and Sweden seek to explain their difficulties with the incompetent management of ICCAT over the past decade or more to Canada, South Africa,
Australia, Iceland or New Zealand, rational fishing countries which might have understood their point?
I understood on the date of the vote that officials from the British government had made no attempt to introduce Norway, a major fishing nation which supported Appendix 1 on the basis of the FAO scientific panel’s findings, to South Africa and Namibia, key friendly countries which opposed it.

Secondly, did the US, EU or Norway not foresee the opposition of the Arab League to Monaco’s proposal on the grounds that it would cost the jobs of thousands of fishermen?  Quite apart from making the point that the collapse of the tuna fishery would lead to the permanent loss of jobs, while a temporary Appendix 1 listing would actually lead to a recovery of stocks and of the health of the industry, the EU should have been talking about compensation.   The EU’s own fishermen have received assurances that they would be compensated for not fishing, so what were the North African’s supposed to do?  There is enough oil pouring out of wells in Qatar and Kuwait to keep them happy for a few years but did the West make that point to the Arab League?  There is no evidence that it did.  The Government of Qatar, which organized the Doha conference, is anxious to hide its role as conspirator in the plot to bring down the flagship proposal at Doha but as part of the UAE was it not responsible for opposing it?
Didn’t Britain and the US, old friends of the Arab world, twig this would happen?

Someone needs to ask whether sufficient diplomatic or political capital was thrown into the fight by pro-Appendix 1 countries.  Or did the EU and US only start thinking about winning hearts and minds after their support for Appendix 1 was announced?  It has been clear to Japan since the ICCAT meeting last November of the fight it would face at Doha and it used the time well.
 Were EU officials properly briefed on how votes worked at Cites or the need for a vigorous debate including all the best advocate nations behind the proposal – who were stifled into silence by the stupid EU policy of speaking only through the Presidency, in this case Spain which had been opposing the policy of support for Appendix 1 only two weeks before?

I can only throw the smallest sidelight on all this.  Our film The End of the Line has been showing across Europe in screenings organized by a coalition of environmental organizations and has succeeded in persuading people everywhere that the bluefin campaign, and the proposal to put sharks on Appendix II, was the front line in the campaign to protect the resources of the sea.  The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has shown the film repeatedly in-house to its officials and I have attended a question and answer
session for officials there.  We offered it to the British government for its reception at Doha, where we naively believed it might like to showcase its campaign to place the bluefin on Appendix 1.  The offer was refused.  We offered to help ministers and officials target those diplomatic contacts who would be necessary to persuade if an Appendix 1 listing was to succeed.  Our offers were not taken up, nor, I gather, were those of some environmental groups.  I heard from one official that the British official leading on bluefin didn’t come and introduce himself to me at Doha because he didn’t know what I looked like.  Since our film has been credited by many with his government’s position on the bluefin issue, I find it rather difficult to believe that he hasn’t seen it.
If he had, he would know who he was looking for.

So in short, if they had so little idea what they were doing, why on Earth didn’t ministers and officials ask civil society for more help?
It is now time for Parliamentarians and Congressmen to press these questions.

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3 Comments

  1. Markus ()

    thank you for this new perspective. Unfortunately, the very ministers, congressmen and leaders are nothing else than paper-tigers. We do have programms to adress these issues: called COP10. But appearently, the decisionmakers forget directly after they talk: we have the year of biodiversity, the chairman is Mr. Sakihito Ozawa, Minister of the Environment, Japan. Check out what they bullsh… they are talking: http://www.cbd.int/2010/welcome/
    it is just a DISGRACE!!!!

    Posted March 20, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Permalink134
  2. Markus ()

    What is Mr. Sakihito Ozawa, Minister of the Environment, Japan, saying there? Do I hear that right? Did he say: “Business as usual is not an option?”
    So Tuna, Tigers, Polar-Bears, Wahles aren’t a part of the biodiversity the honourable minister is talking about? Will somebody ask him about that?

    Posted March 20, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Permalink134
  3. jeanette ()

    You raise some important questions Charles so thanks for that. One point of clarification – Qatar is not part of the UAE but a Sovereign state with its own royal family etc. Both countries are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

    Posted March 21, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Permalink134

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