Failed bluefin tuna ban a case of decency versus delicacy.



Editorial published by: The Chronicle Herald CA, March 21, 2010.

IF there is any hope for the majestic Atlantic bluefin tuna, it does not lie in international monitoring bodies. It lies in the individual decisions of consumers.

Taking the scientific case for saving the endangered fish to organizations charged with governance of the resource has proven hopeless time and again. Just last week, delegates from 175 nations at the UN’s meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to list the fish as threatened with extinction, which would have led to a ban on its trade internationally.

The United States and European Union were onside, but opponents led by Japan prevailed. Canada lined up with the naysayers because a CITES ban would have still allowed bluefin tuna to be harvested by countries for domestic consumption. But our $5-million industry — including 350 licensed tuna fishermen in P.E.I. — exports almost all of its catch and therefore would have been disproportionately devastated.

(In fairness, the Canadian fleet is not the real problem. It uses hook-and-line methods, which means the tuna are caught individually, whereas Mediterranean fleets rely on industrial-strength methods — sweeping entire schools of fish into massive nets or tracking tuna with aircraft and sonar.)

A staple of the anti-ban coalition’s argument is that oversight of the fishery should remain a regional responsibility that falls under the aegis of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). This might be a credible contention if ICCAT were not in the habit of ignoring its own scientists, allowing overfishing, and setting quotas at twice the recommended level.

On its watch, Atlantic bluefin numbers in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean have fallen by 80 per cent over the past 50 years. Some scientists believe the stock is six years away from collapse.

Japan is the export market for 80 per cent of the Atlantic bluefin tuna, but the globalization of Japanese culture has also increased demand at sushi restaurants worldwide. (The tuna in question is not the kind that finds its way into a can at the grocery store, but a delicacy that commands an exorbitant price at eateries.)

At this point, conservationists stand a better chance of appealing to the general public, and especially well-heeled consumers, than to quasi-governmental agencies that are easily swayed by industry. People really do need to ask themselves whether sushi is worth the destruction of a species.

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