Written by staff reporter Thursday, 29 January 2009 00:00
The news that bluefin tuna, one of the fastest fish in the sea, may soon be facing extinction in the Mediterranean should come as no surprise to European governments, as scientists have been warning of such an impending catastrophe for many years.
Such blatant self-interest is not just causing tuna populations to collapse in the Mediterranean – where the spawning grounds are – but is affecting the fishery right across the Atlantic. As tuna populations dwindle, the price goes up, driven by the world’s insatiable appetite for sushi, of which bluefin tuna is a prized ingredient. With as much as £20,000 being paid for a single fish, the potential profits are enormous and no effort is spared, including the use of spotter planes, to find and catch the last remaining schools. Such profits inevitably draw in the criminal underworld: at a previous meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT), a white lily, the funeral flower used as a death threat by the Mafia, was left on the table of one of the environmental organisations present.
Based on existing population estimates, there has been a proposal for a maximum quota of 15,000 tonnes a year. But ICCAT, which is based in Spain, has set the quota at almost double that, and there is evidence that even this figure is being completely ignored, with Spanish, Italian and French fishermen landing in the region of 60,000 tonnes a year.
Scientists are now calling for the Mediterranean bluefin fishery to be stopped altogether if there is to be any chance of the species surviving.
Up to now, Britain has stood on the sidelines in this fiasco, but it is important that we make our voices heard. I would ask the new minister for fisheries, Huw Irranca-Davies, to press Borg to act quickly. He is best contacted through his website at www.huwirranca-davies.org.uk.
Unfortunately, as one fishery closes, more effort is put into another – a classic example being the Spanish long-lining fleet, which, having been a major factor in the rapid drop in marlin and swordfish numbers in the Atlantic, has then switched over to catching huge numbers of sharks. As shark populations worldwide crash due to the ever-increasing demand from the shark-fin trade, that of the Atlantic blue shark looks set to follow them.
The discovery that Tesco supermarkets in Thailand are selling shark fins has led to demands in the UK for the retailer to live up to its conservationist hype and stop the practice. Tesco’s commitment to ‘meet the needs of the present without compromising future generations’ doesn’t sit well with selling shark fins, which has been clearly shown to be leading to the rapid disappearance of our oldest marine predator. To its credit, Tesco has approached the Shark Trust for advice on this issue, and I trust that we will see shark fin coming off Tesco’s shelves in Thailand in the very near future. An email to encourage it to move quickly would certainly help. They can be reached through www.tesco.com/help/contact/contactus1.asp