The right thing never happens for the mighty bluefin tuna. The latest debacle just happened at the CITES meeting in Doha, Qatar.
The main Atlantic bluefin tuna fishing nations—the U.S., the entire European Union—plus Norway and Kenya, supported Monaco’s proposal to ban international trade in bluefin tuna. Forty years of mismanagement and continual decline, the destruction of the West Atlantic breeding population, and the uncontrolled tailspin of the Mediterranean’s bluefins due to rampant overfishing, convinced them that a ban was needed. The U.N. agreed, as did the World Conservation Union.
But bullied by Japan, with complicity from Canada (two countries which have famously demolished their fish populations), many poor countries with no stake in North Atlantic bluefin tuna—but with a lot to lose by Japan’s threats to withhold economic aid—voted with Japan to sink Monaco’s proposal.
With that, they sank the bluefin’s chance at a life-raft. For now, hopes for arresting the decline, and for seeing a recovery, are belly-up.
Japan says a ban would devastate fishing economies. As if destroying the fish won’t.
When I was younger, catching bluefin tuna was the most thrilling thing I did. Now, those great, rushing, ocean-bursting schools are gone. That startling surge, the shocking power, the pandemonium in the cockpit, remain vivid in my memory. Then, hundreds of boats pursued them. Now, so few bluefin come along our coast that virtually no one tries to find them. For me, the mere idea is sad.
I recently watched a video I’d shot almost twenty years ago of two friends and me catching two bluefins on my boat. What was so exciting then, I could hardly watch. That was around the time I’d realized the writing on the wall, because it was evident the fish were getting scarcer. And for two decades I have written, lobbied, and tried in various ways to put the brakes on this criminally negligent fishery.
I was hoping for good news today. I have a bottle of champagne on my desk. But with Japan undermining the democracy of the CITES convention, I was braced for what’s happened. My champagne will remain firmly corked. Success remains elusive. There are miles to go before we have something to celebrate. The situation will worsen. And then, someday, maybe not entirely too late, we’ll succeed in making the right thing happen for the beleaguered bluefin tuna. And then we’ll pop the cork.