The rainy saison
Last week, the world’s fish geek community converged on a frigid, misty Paris to form the 2010 Seafood Summit, an annual event organized by the Seafood Choices Alliance and designed to facilitate discussion about the current state of the seafood industry and the future of our planet’s fish. Over 600 representatives of industry, academia, the environmental movement, government agencies, and intergovernmental bodies came together to exchange ideas, intelligence, and insults while firmly ensconced in a Parisian conference hotel.
A wide swath of topics was covered by a diverse medley of panels and presentations over the three days of the summit. Fisheries were analyzed, certification schemes were compared and contrasted, and environmentalists sparred with industry hardliners. Through it all, gossip ricocheted down the corridors of the conference center, partnerships were forged in the fires of crisis, and luminaries rained wisdom down on a parched audience.
Fortunately for seekers like myself, the conference was blessed by the attendance of the most illustrious group of aquatic icons since the cast reunion of Finding Nemo.
Pauly pulls no punches, people
Dr. Daniel Pauly, preeminent fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia, opened the event with a keynote speech that magnificently wove candor, charisma, and the statistical equivalent of howitzer fire together to illustrate the grave state of our oceans. He pulled no punches. Notable quotes from the address include: “Ladies and gentlemen, there is no such thing as a sustainable trawler,” “[Carnivorous] aquaculture is robbing Pedro to pay Paul,” and my personal favorite, “You are all too fat! You don’t need to eat so much protein!”
The peaceful yin to Pauly’s blood-and-thunder yang came at the end of the summit in a gentle, supportive, and passionate closing speech by Julie Packard, the executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and a chairman of the ocean-worshipping Packard Foundation. Packard’s words helped to sooth nerves rubbed raw by the energy and fervor that had electrified the Summit. Eco-freaks, ocean plunderers, and everyone in between sat in silence during the address, thankful for the clarity and the solace in Packard’s words.
Clover combats culinary catastrophe
Charles Clover, author of The End of the Line and one of the planet’s most valiant defenders of the bluefin tuna, brought his mission to the Summit as he engaged in any number of discussions with key figures from the industry, academia, and the environmental movement. His unique ability to meld the twin facets of his personality — “dashing eco-warrior” and “stodgy old tory” — into a surprisingly charming duality worked wonders as he promoted his newest venture, the environmentally-oriented restaurant review website fish2fork.
There were a number of themes that influenced the general direction of discussion. Target’s decision to eliminate farmed salmon was a major focus of discussion, as was the progress being made in France towards the inclusion of Northern bluefin tuna under CITES Appendix 1. The was a great deal of interest in the emergence of new and lesser-known fisheries, such as salmon runs in the Russian Far East, and there were some powerful discussions comparing and contrasting various sustainable seafood “approval” schemes and certification systems — this proliferation of rankings, stickers, and seals is clearly one of the most important issues facing the industry today.
While some of the same old baggage was trucked in yet again — I found myself in yet another hard-headed shouting match with a salmon farmer, for example — there was actually a great deal of progress visible at this year’s summit. People were actually discussing real issues. An entire day was devoted to tuna, and while some of the weaker industry-WWF collaborations (such as the Marine Stewardship Council and the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation) did receive an inordinate share of unjustified back-slapping, there was some positive, reality-oriented talk as well. No one stood up to defend ICCAT during the discussion on bluefin stock management, for example. One can only hope that those days are over.
A light in the darkness
As we move forward into 2010, I am optimistic and full of hope. There was a genuine, palpable desire for change rippling through the attending body at the Summit. Our patience for the plausible (and implausible) denial of the changes our planet and our oceans are undergoing seems to be at its end. I sincerely believe that if we work together and challenge old, broken paradigms without fear, we will be able to capitalize on this desire for change, and rebuild the seafood industry into something that works.
Ahh, ICCAT. Our friendly International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. Truly a group of wise and responsible stewards of the seas.
Thanks for nothing
This has gone too far. The greed and corruption running this Commission are now about as well camouflaged as a stegosaurus trying to hide behind a postage stamp. Forgive the hackneyed humor, but there is no longer any doubt whatsoever that ICCAT does in fact stand for “The International Conspiracy to Catch All the Tuna.”
Last week, at a meeting in Recife, Brazil, the scientific advisers to the Commission proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Northern bluefin tuna is in a critical situation. Not a single delegate dared voice an objection to the fact that the animal’s perilous status qualified it for protection under CITES.
Numerous scientists from a multitude of different countries and environmental organizations submitted proposals stating unequivocally that the quota must be dropped from the current 19,500 metric tons to no more than 8,000 metric tons, if we hope to give the population even a 50% chance of recovery.
Clover: Pleading for sanity
The science was bulletproof. There was not a single shred of evidence that could countervail this assertion. Greenpeace, WWF, and other environmental groups belabored the point until they were hoarse. Charles Clover, author of The End of the Line and prominent champion of the bluefin, made the trek to Recife to plead the poor fish’s case – he even managed to arrange a screening of the film for the ICCAT delegates.
So, when all was said and done, what was the final decision of the Commission?
In its infinite wisdom, the august body that is ICCAT voted to set the upcoming season’s bluefin quota at 13,500 metric tons.
ICCAT: Doing the math
This number far exceeds any remotely defensible figure. It’s a quota with zero scientific basis that flies in the face of conventional wisdom and virtually ensures the commercial extinction of this animal. Such a calculus is justifiable only to the members of what is clearly no more than a political cult idolizing greed, corruption, and piracy.
I need to take a few seconds and collect myself before continuing, lest this post degenerate into rabid polemics and I end up with spittle all over my computer screen. I am so angry right now that it is difficult for me to express myself in a manner that doesn’t involve the wanton destruction of some nearby appliance.
ICCAT has failed. It has failed us, and it has failed the bluefin. It has failed the oceans, it has failed the planet, and it has failed our children.
In fact, ICCAT has even managed to fail the myopic fishing interests that control it. Any corruption-riddled junta worth its salt should at least be able to satisfy its puppeteers to the degree that it provide them with their illicit plunder for more than just a couple of years. This quota will not only ensure the destruction of the bluefin, but it will result in the controlling parties not even having a resource to exploit come the end of the Mayan calendar.
Catching their drift
Immediately folloing the closing session of the Recife meeting, Charles Clover wrote a scathing and comprehensive letter in response to this kangaroo court escapade, noting that not only was the Commission unable to adopt sensible protections for several shark species, ICCAT actually voted to allow three member nations to continue to use drift nets — one of the most indiscriminate and destructive fishing methods on the face of the planet. And thus do we all sally forth together into this bright new tuna-free world.
So where’s the silver lining here? Believe it or not, it rests with the US government.
We need you more than ever
Nearly a month ago, I wrote a short post about how Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), had passed on Monaco’s proposal and threw her support behind ICCAT with the proviso that ICCAT set “responsible science-based quotas,” among other instructions. Clearly, the Commission did not adhere to this directive. As such, it is now Dr. Lubchenco’s responsibility to live up to her promise and champion Monaco’s proposal to grant the Northern bluefin tuna protection under CITES Appendix 1. And it is our responsibility, as stewards and citizens of this planet, to show her our support.
I urge all who read this to send an email to Dr. Jane Lubchenco at Jane.Lubchenco@noaa.gov reminding her to rise to the occasion and stand up for the bluefin tuna. ICCAT clearly cannot do so, regardless of the clarity and quantity of science that would justify such action. It is time to cast off the trappings of this useless, obsolete Commission and to try something that will actually work.
Additional background on this issue can be found in a previous post.
Nice slice of paradise
Monaco-Ville, also known as Le Rocher (the Rock), is a tiny little town tucked inside the tiny little pleasure garden that is the sovereign nation of Monaco. Comprising about one tenth of the total area of the Riviera’s pocket Principality, this little hamlet is home to just over a thousand souls – many of them extremely rich. One resident in particular has achieved an astonishing degree of fame and fortune, merely by being the son of his equally diamond-encrusted parents: His Serene Highness Albert Grimaldi II, the Sovereign Prince of Monaco.
Albert Grimaldi’s home, the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, is a mansion of celestial stature that adorns the highest point in Monaco-Ville like a diamond tiara atop a prom queen. It is a place of both breathtaking beauty and incalculable real estate value. Still, despite his lavish digs and lofty title, Prince Albert and his Robin Leach-baiting lifestyle would not normally interest me (well, at least not for the purposes of this blog, but… I mean, come on, Grace Kelly was the guy’s mom. How can my curiosity not be at least a little piqued?) However, Prince Albert is not your everyday European kazillionaire blueblood head-of-state celebrity jet-setter.
Turns out he’s a European kazillionaire blueblood head-of-state celebrity jet-setter environmentalist.
The royal seal?
Prince Albert is no slouch when it comes to saving the planet. He has worked diligently to dismantle the Monaco Zoo, repatriate the animals into the wild, and transform the facility into a children’s park (although he does keep two nerpa seal pups which were presented to him by the Russian governor of Irkutsk). He served as the patron of the Year of the Dolphin, a title given to the year 2007 (and later extened to 2008) by the United Nations. He even took a trip to visit 26 different bases and research facilities in Antarctica to learn about the effects of climate change on the ice-clad continent. Still, this was all just a prologue to what the Prince did about a month ago.
In June of 2009, Prince Albert co-authored a letter to the Wall Street Journal with Charles Clover, the author of The End of the Line. In the letter, the Prince openly decried the annual embarrassment that is the European Union bluefin quota. He also acknowledged that the species is indeed endangered and that it merits legal protection rather than the unchecked over-exploitation it is suffering at present.
He concluded his regal communiqué with a masterstroke – a formal announcement that Monaco will propose to have Mediterranean bluefin listed as an endangered species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Not exactly life-size
The challenge has been that most people are unaware of how amazing this animal really is. Most people have never seen a bluefin tuna, as these majestic creatures spend their lives swimming in the deep blue currents of the Atlantic ocean. Most don’t know that if you let a bluefin tuna reach full maturity, they can weigh over 1000 pounds and exceed 10 feet in length. The actual percentage of the global population that has ever seen a living bluefin tuna up close is too small to calculate.
As such, the country of Monaco, with its population of just over 30,000, is little more than a village on the international stage, but has nevertheless set a tremendous precedent here. Under the guidance of its monarch, Monaco stepped up and took a stand against a barbaric and unconscionable practice that is occurring just a scant few miles from its glitterati-strewn shores. A nation that is only rarely awarded delineation on a schoolbook map had taken a position at odds with those historically espoused by its comparatively gargantuan neighbors, its most important trade partners, and nearly every other country in the world.
A month later, the world was able to see Monaco as the leader it truly is.
Brothers in bluefin
On July 16th, 2009, le President lui-meme, M. Nicholas Sarkozy, announced that France, too, would be seeking to list Mediterranean bluefin under CITES. This was a tremendous blow to the bluefin industry; while Monaco is neither an EU member nor a powerful enough state to pose a threat at the Convention meetings, France is both. To compound the impact, later in the same day – a day which could be called “Thunnus Thursday” – a similar proclamation rang out in the streets of London. Huw Irranca-Davies, Minister of Fisheries for the United Kingdom, declared that the UK would join France and Monaco in support of this noble goal.
While it is too early to predict the full ramifications of these events, it is extremely likely that the next CITES Conference – currently scheduled to be held in Qatar in March 2010 – will be quite a pyrotechnic show. Countries like Japan and Spain have invested tremendous amounts of money in the Mediterranean bluefin fishery, and are predicted to vociferously oppose the listing.
So what can we do as individuals to support the actions of Monaco, France, and the UK? How can we make our voices heard above the din of the political machine that is propelling the bluefin towards utter extinction?
Get him on board
Step One: Urge the USA to Join Monaco, France, and the UK. The world looked on as France and the UK rallied to Monaco’s call and formally announced their support to list the Mediterranean bluefin tuna as an endangered species. Now we as American consumers need to show our support by urging the US government to join France, the UK and Monaco in moving to protect the bluefin.
Action: Sign this on-line petition to support the USA joining France, UK and Monaco.
- Step Two: Make smart choices when you eat fish. Not all tuna species are endangered. Consumers can still buy tuna, both canned and fresh, and not contribute to the demise of our oceans. Look for tuna that is taken from healthy and well-managed populations, and that is caught in sustainable and environmentally benign methods. The same applies to sushi. You can still eat delicious sushi and make smart choices.
Action: Check blogs like Sustainable Sushi for ideas on making smart sushi choices at the sushi bar. Visit Seafood Watch to learn more about what seafood options are sustainable, and Greenpeace for a rundown of which seafood retailers are responsible.
- Step Three: Practice catch & release. If you enjoy sportfishing for tuna, especially bluefin tuna,
"I'll be back"
consider practicing catch and release. One can have all the thrills of offshore sportfishing and still release these trophy fish to live another day. In fact, anglers and charter boats can join a catch and release program that gives these environmentally aware fishermen recognition and incentive for releasing bluefin tuna back into the ocean.
Action: Practice catch and release if you fish recreationally.
- Step Four: Have a voice – join the conservation community. There are thousands of other people who care about the bluefin tuna. If you want to meet others who care and have a voice or ask a question simply look online. There are social networks, research sites and eating guides that are easily found. Additionally, one of the most powerful things one can do is to simply tell your friends about this watershed issue. If you are on Twitter, tweet about your concern. If you are on Facebook, tell your friends how they can help. If you blog, blog about bluefin. You will find many people that are eager to learn and supportive of this most important cause.
Action: Get involved, sign up and voice your concern.
- Step Five: Support critical research. Learning about how these amazing tuna behave and breed is critical if we are to enact successful management policies. Support for bluefin research is needed now more than ever.
Action: Check out the Tag A Giant Foundation, where you can learn about the work that’s been done by some of the world’s foremost marine scientists. The members of this crew have dedicated their lives to bluefin research and are borderline fanatical in their devotion to the animal. A good group.
Follow the leader
If we are to save these gentle giants, the time is now. Monaco, France and the UK are giving the bluefin a chance, and it is up to the rest of the world to continue the momentum. We have the power to save the mighty bluefin, but only if our voices unite to demand it.
As for Prince Albert, none of this would have happened without his insight, his courage, and the small but undeniable voice of his Lilliputian homeland. Sometimes it really does take a village to change the world (thanks, Hillary.)
This article was co-authored by John LoGioco and Casson Trenor.
On Friday the 19th, I was invited to participate in a short Q&A session directly following the release of The End of the Line, a new documentary about the state of our oceans, at a movie theater in the East Village.
Even though Greenpeace has been engaging in rigorous cross-promotional efforts with the producers of this film, including campaigning against Nobu restaurant and taking to the water to expose the repugnant activities of bluefin tuna pirates, this was the first time I actually saw the movie in its entirety… and I’m now more convinced than ever that it merits our unconditional support.
The End of the Line is a masterful work that details one man’s crusade to save our world’s oceans. The author and subject of the documentary, Charles Clover, found his love of the ocean as many of us do: at the end of a line.
While fishing in Wales, Clover snagged a very lonely salmon – a salmon that turned out to be the last one ever caught in that river. Overfishing, rampant development, pollution, and habitat loss have combined forces to annihilate a population that once made annual pilgrimages to the Welsh highlands.
After witnessing the melancholy fade-out of this salmon run, Clover began to ask that simple question that so many of us are struggling so mightily to ignore: Why are our fish disappearing? His quest to find an answer became an odyssey that took him from Senegal to Tokyo and a thousand points in between.
You should see my older brother
The movie is replete with dazzling imagery; shots of Almadraba, a traditional bluefin tuna hunt undertaken by Spanish fishermen in the Strait of Gibraltar capture the true vitality and power of this regal animal. During the sequence, I overheard a woman in front of me convey her astonishment over the bluefin’s massive size to her companion in hushed expletives.
The irony is that the bluefin pictured in The End of the Line aren’t large at all… maybe 150 pounds. Just a short decade or two ago, there still were bluefin swimming about that had reached sizes closer to their true potential – upwards of 600 pounds. That’s three or four times larger than the “massive” fish in the movie.
Our baselines have shifted. Aside from the wrinkled old seadogs that haunt the docks of towns like Gloucester, MA, no one remembers a truly gargantuan bluefin. No one remembers that there used to be alligators in Chesapeake Bay. No one remembers the true nature of a healthy ocean.
"When I was your age..."
A number of aging fishermen appear throughout the film, underscoring this issue by weaving an old salts’s lament into the story. With their greybeard perspective and sun-stroked skin, these old men of the sea decry the waste and rapacity of the modern fishing industry, citing our rampant overfishing as a glaring example of today’s generation cutting its own throat in search of a quick dollar.
Near the conclusion of the film, an unnamed woman sums up the problem when she smiles into the camera and candidly delivers the line, “I like to eat fish. To me, fish are food.”
Those who have read some of my previous articles and blog entries on this subject know that I do not necessarily dispute this statement. I don’t have a problem with the concept of a human being feeding on a fish. The problem arises with the strange assumption that once an animal is relegated to the status of “food,” it no longer merits any kind of respectful treatment. It does not deserve to be treated as a living thing; rather, it exists for the lone purpose of one day graduating to the status of fish finger, salmon burger, or 2-piece nigiri plate.
Speaking to this issue (albeit somewhat indirectly) is Dr. Daniel Pauly, a UBC professor who is prominently featured throughout the movie. Pauly is one of the most well-known fisheries scientists in the world. He speaks at conferences and symposia in cities across the globe. The particularities of his theories are often disputed within academia, but no one would deny the man’s brilliance and devotion to the planet.
At one point during the film, Pauly offers a frighteningly simple answer to Clover’s overarching question about the fate of the world’s fish. When Clover asks, “Where are the fish going?, Pauly responds, “We are eating them!”
- ALL YOUR FISH ARE BELONG TO US
Fish may be food to some, but that does not mean that they are not still fish first and foremost, living organisms with which humans have a delicate and complex relationship. This relationship is being abused to a terrifying extreme. Factory trawlers, dynamite fishers, bluefin tuna pirates, absurdly greedy corporations (et tu, Mitsubishi?) and corrupt politicians have stretched the ability of our oceans to nurture healthy fish populations to the breaking point.
I beseech all those who read this message to make a point of seeing The End of the Line as soon as possible. It depicts the reality of the state of our oceans better than this blog ever could.
Anyone who has listened to the radio, watched television, read a newspaper, surfed the internet, or chased after celebrity gossip in the past couple of weeks has likely heard about something about a particular sushi chain getting called out for a history of nefarious behavior.
The chain in question in Nobu, the fantastically successful joint venture of renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa, the Raging Bull himself Robert De Niro, and three other partners. Nobu is a sushi giant, with twenty-four locations that dot the most chic neighboorhoods of many of the world’s most glamourous cities, and a menu replete with dozens of price tags that would make the average recession-choked American both green with envy and red with rage.
Countdown to extinction
Nobu is under siege from all sides for its continual disregard for the health of our planet. The high-end chain sells a tremendous amount of bluefin tuna, much of which is critically endangered Northern bluefin (Thunnus thynnus) from the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Despite repeated warnings about the looming commercial extinction of this majestic fish from a vast international amalgamation of scientists, actors, conservation organizations, foodies, bloggers, aquaria, filmmakers, and even a European Prince, Nobu resolutely presses forward, offering no comment and refusing to alter its menu in the slightest. The restaurant’s response is akin to a tantrum-throwing child clapping his hands over his ears while stomping his feet, or perhaps to a yoked horse charging towards a cliff regardless of its own life or the lives of those in the stagecoach attached to it. Nobu’s arrogant denial of the reality of our mutual challenge — the continual decline of the health of our oceans — is a serious problem.
Not in my ocean: Elle MacPhearson is one of the many celebrities boycotting Nobu
But this is not about just one restaurant. Nobu is a symbol; it represents the old guard of restaurateurs whose lofty perches often distance them from the plebeian masses. Moreover, Nobu is a rallying point — as an endangered species-slinging, celebrity-owned, stratospherically-priced haunt for the upper crust, it’s a perfect target for those who are itching for a greater level of corporate responsibility within the restaurant industry.
For those of you who are not yet aware, I have recently accepted the position of Senior Markets Campaigner for one of my favorite conservation organizations, Greenpeace. This does not indicate the convergence of Greenpeace and www.sustainablesushi.net, which remains an independent forum – but the arrangement allows me to work with a large group of passionate individuals towards the greater goal of a healthy planet. One of the ways that we can reach this goal is through the reformation of the sushi industry, and there’s no better way to accomplish this than to get some high-level trendsetters on board. Enter Nobu.
Nobu has already been “outed” on their unsustainable practices (this interaction is featured in the forthcoming documentary The End of the Line, based on the excellent book by Charles Clover). Nobu promised to label bluefin as an endangered species on all of their menus, but subsequently changed tactics and cut off communications. The one menu that reflects any change whatsoever is at the London branch, which uses a microscopic footnote to indicate that bluefin is “environmentally challenged.” This thunderous understatement aside, Nobu has done absolutely nothing to protect that very fish which has so heavily contributed to the jingling pockets of the restaurant’s owners. Our oceans cannot endure this situation any longer. Enter Greenpeace.
I am not a fan of direct confrontation. I view it as an avenue of last resort, only to be used when all other tactics have been exhausted. In this case, Nobu has been stonewalling environmental entreaty for over a year while the chain contiunues to plunder the ocean for its own insatiable greed. To expose and spotlight this edacious behavior, John Hocevar, Greenpeace’s Oceans Campaign Director, developed a mock Nobu menu — a Swiftian satire of Nobu’s reckless quest for profit at all costs. What is the difference, the menu suggests, between Northern bluefin and mountain gorilla, Iberian lynx, or California Condor? All of these animals are critically endangered. Why is it acceptable to serve the former, when the presence of any of the latter three on a restaurant menu would no doubt solicit a restaurant critic’s verbal equivalent of a molotov cocktail through the front window?
- Spreading the word, one menu at a time
Over the past week, Greenpeace activists in both New York and Los Angeles have staged “dine-ins” at Nobu’s TriBeCa and West Hollywood locations, festooning the restaurant with mock menus, taking up table space, and demanding to speak to the manager about Nobu’s egregious disregard for our planet’s welfare.
The actions were conducted in a precise manner that was aimed at sending a message to upper management without undue disruption of other restaurant patrons. Nobu servers were generously tipped by Greenpeace activists; after all, the restaurant ownership’s head-in-the-sand mentality does not justify behavior that would send the waitresses and waiters, who have no decision-making power but who do have families and livelihoods, home without the tips on which they depend. We are, after all, in a recession.
The point of all this is to take the issue to Nobu on the restaurant’s home turf. In addition to being lambasted in the press, demonized in a documentary, and boycotted by celebrities, Nobu now must contend with activists that march directly into the restaurant to speak their minds.