Stars, stripes, and scales
In an age and state where the word “patriotism” has been misinterpreted, manipulated, maligned, and mangled beyond recognition, it is often difficult to discern not only what it means to be patriotic, but what it means to be an American. In my experience, it is only on a rare day that it becomes unnecessary to differentiate between vying definitions – nationalistic pride, support of entrenched policies, endorsement of governmental shift, facebook-friendship of standing politicians, etc. – before I can state without equivocation that I am proud to be an American.
Today is one of those days.
Early this morning, Tom Strickland, the assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks at the US Department of the Interior, finally stood up against those who would doom the beleaguered Northern bluefin tuna to death by sushi knife. Citing the management failures of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and underscoring the unquestionable peril in which this noble fish finds itself, Strickland announced that the Obama administration will indeed be supporting Monaco’s proposal to list the Northern bluefin tuna under CITES Appendix 1.
A bloody shame
This is a game-changer. The world’s largest economy has finally weighed in on one of the most pressing issues facing the ocean conservation movement – the simple fact that commercially exploited fish have thus far been utterly ignored by the institutionalized international processes designed to offer respite to endangered species. The Northern bluefin tuna, decimated by the rapacity of the global sushi industry and of bluefin traders like the Mitsubishi corporation, has hitherto been largely ignored by the world’s protectionary bodies in favor of ICCAT, a malfunctioning, incoherent (mis)management system that has brought the bluefin to the brink of the abyss… but perhaps this is finally at an end.
The United States government’s role in this ecological chess match is unique. Even though US economy does not have a significant share of the world’s bluefin production, it does constitute a sizable share of overall consumption. Certainly it is not on a scale to match Japan (the world’s foremost consumer of bluefin, devouring approximately 80% of all bluefin tuna yanked from our ailing oceans) but the US sushi industry has exploded in recent years, bringing with it a skyrocketing demand for bluefin tuna. Many of the world’s most well-known sushi icons are based in the United States, and there is no shortage of American consumers willing to shell out fat stacks of greenbacks for the ephemeral bliss of a two-bite communion with Our Lady of O-toro. As such, the US is more than just a global economic engine in this scenario. The conviction of the Obama administration to stand behind Monaco’s proposal is a food policy statement – an admission that as we as a global community grow, we need to begin to make difficult choices, and that desire and wealth can no longer stand alone as the market mechanisms that drive our luxury food supply. We must begin to temper them with an awareness of the impacts our choices have on our environment.
Not on his watch
Certainly this is not the end of the struggle. Whether or not the bluefin will receive the support and protection it requires will be decided by a conference of all CITES parties in Doha, Qatar, later this month – and it will likely be a bloody affair. Japan vehemently opposes the proposal and is expected to break out every weapon in its considerable arsenal in defense of its hard-line position. China, too, has announced its opposition to the listing. Support for the proposal within the European Union is tenuous at best and could still sour. Many other countries, such as Australia (which has a bluefin industry of its own, albeit a different stock and species), New Zealand, and Brazil remain on the fence. There is still a great deal of work to do.
So while the champagne moment is yet to come, I would suggest making some room in the fridge to chill a bottle or two. The support of the Obama administration was an absolute necessity if the bluefin is to survive the CITES gauntlet, and with it secured, there may just be some hope for the world’s most expensive fish – and, symbolically, for the oceans themselves – after all.
Days gone by
It’s been quite a year.
As the last few heartbeats of the year 2009 fade away, it is natural to take stock of how far we have come. It’s important to recognize our victories, as well as to isolate and examine our shortcomings. After all, there’s certainly no need to make the same mistakes again in 2010.
I’m also happy to say that it was Sustainable Sushi‘s first birthday at some point in the last few weeks. Over this past year, this website has afforded me with the opportunity not only to explore many fascinating issues, but to discuss them with people commenting from all across the globe. It has been a wonderful experience, and I thank you all so very much for helping to make it happen.
So, 2009: a tumultuous year by any standard. The oceans have had a tough time of it, but in other ways, we’ve achieved more than we could have possibly hoped for.
There have been times over the past twelve months when things have seemed bleak. It is beyond debate that the oceans took some major blows this year, and some of the ominous clouds on the horizon have grown even darker:
At the same time, we’ve seen some incredible successes this year. All across the planet, people stood up for the oceans, bringing their passion for a better planet with them as they cooked, shopped, wrote, worked and marched:
The End of the Line, a documentary on overfishing and the state of the world’s oceans, was released. This led to increased pressure on Nobu restaurant to discontinue the sale of endangered Northern bluefin. This momentum manifest in celebrity petitions, dozens of articles in trade and mainstream press, and a Greenpeace campaign.
It's finally over
The Cove, a shocking documentary about the Taiji dolphin slaughter, was released worldwide. Broome, Australia, discontinued its sister-city relationship with Taiji over the fiasco. Taiji has temporarily halted its dolphin drive, but other communities in Japan continue to hunt dolphins. The Cove has even been nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Documentary.”
- 2009 marked the first year in a world beyond the grindadrap: the annual Faeroese pilot whale drive that had caused much consternation among environmentalists. In response to warnings by their chief medical advisors, the Faeroese practice of slaughtering pilot whales and distributing the meat throughout the community was halted permanently in November of 2008.
The majority of these positive changes are part of a greater pattern: an accelerating increase in our overall awareness of the problems faced by our oceans. Movies, magazine articles, and activist campaigns have brought the health of our fisheries to the headlines and to the tips of our tongues. The amount of conversations we are having at coffee shops, in grocery stores, and around backyard barbecues about seafood sustainability and environmentally responsible fish consumption has never been higher – and rising faster than ever before.
Stand and fight
Yes, it’s true that the bluefin tuna is in dire straits. It is true that eel poaching continues unabated, that bottom trawlers still prowl the seas, and that we are on pace to empty the oceans of all seafood in less than forty years. Still, as menacing as these threats are, they are not the most important issues at hand.
The single most powerful and meaningful thing that happened to our oceans this year is that we truly began to wake up to the truth of what we are doing to our planet. We are more aware. We are more alert. And we are much more energized and focused.
Hundreds of new ocean activists are standing up every day to make a difference. Maybe they write a check, or they buy a different kind of fish, or they have a conversation with a chef or grocer. Maybe they simply have coffee with a good friend and spread the word. It doesn’t matter – it all helps. Every day we come closer to achieving critical mass, a fully realized awareness that will mobilize our true potential to save our oceans.
A brave new world
So let’s make 2010 the year that we redouble our efforts. It is time to capitalize on our momentum and push even harder, accomplish even more for the sake of planet and our future. There is still a tremendous amount of work to do, but make no mistake: we are stronger than the forces that would hold us back. And on those particularly gloomy days, when bad news comes crashing down and the future looks insurmountably bleak, just remember: you are not alone. We’re all in this together – you, me, and the millions of other people that are out there fighting every single day, working to make this world a better place for all of us.
Take heart — we are winning.
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.
Earlier this week, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere as well as NOAA Admisistrator – not to mention a member of President Obama’s Ocean Taskforce – finally broke the silence by officially weighing in on bluefin tuna.
Lubchenco: turning the tide?
Lubchenco announced that the United States is “sending a clear and definitive statement to the international community that the status quo is not acceptable.” She formally acknowledged the peril facing the Northern bluefin tuna, citing stock declines of 72% and 82% in the eastern and western populations, respectively. The good Doctor levels blame for these declines directly at the ineffectual International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), as well as the irresponsible activities of certain countries that target bluefin in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Lubchenco calls for ICCAT to address overfishing by setting responsible quotas, increasing enforcement, and instituting fishing closures during spawning periods. She then goes on to declare the United States’ “strong support” for Monaco’s proposal to prohibit the international trade of the species by way of a CITES Appendix I listing.
Sounds great, right? And it is, in a way. It’s a strong proclamation that lets the world know the United States is seriously concerned about this issue. So why aren’t I out in the street right now, lighting fireworks and drinking to excess?
What’s more important than what Dr. Lubchenco said is what she didn’t say. Specifically, one particular word, the absence of which leaves me worried and somewhat dismayed.
That word is “sponsor.”
They just needed a friend
Lubchenco’s statement, while full of authority and righteous indignation, undercuts itself by failing to take up Monaco’s proposal whole-heartedly and champion it at the upcoming CITES meeting in March. Here’s what I mean:
Sponsoring the proposal would have meant that the United States would have submitted Monaco’s resolution to the CITES parties itself.
Strongly supporting the proposal means that the United States is behind the idea in theory, but won’t stand alone to bring it to the table for due consideration and a vote.
Management at its finest
The United States’ government has cast its weight behind a plan that would theoretically repair ICCAT rather than seek endangered species status for the bluefin. And yes, there is some merit to this. If ICCAT had the capacity to set quotas based on ecologically sustainable yield (ESY) as well as the teeth to enforce them in the face of pirates and greedy European bureaucrats (you listening, Joe Borg?) – then it just might work. In fact, by demonstrating its capacity to rebuild the tuna stock in the face of unrelenting market pressure, it could even prove a model for other fishery management tools. But based on ICCAT’s shameful history, not to mention the infuriating myopia and relentless rapacity demonstrated by some of the countries participating in ICCAT, I am forced to remain skeptical.
While Lubchenco’s statement rings loudly, its effectiveness is yet to be determined. The gap between sponsorship and strong support is wide indeed – potentially wide enough to swallow up all that’s left of the once-mighty bluefin tuna.
In an absolutely heartbreaking turn of events, the European Union has decided not to support Monaco’s proposal to award the northern bluefin tuna the protections of CITES Appendix I.
I am gutted.
A continental disappointment
Even though a majority of countries within the EU – specifically those of Northern Europe, Scandinavia, and the British Isles – voted to co-sponsor, an uncompromising and hostile block of Mediterranean countries were able to defeat the process. Because of convoluted EU law, these southern countries were able to demonstrate enough dissent within the Union that the mighty juggernaut of European bureaucracy creaked to a halt.
While 21 European nations seemed ready to support the ban, the unceasing whine generated by six short-sighted members – Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Greece, and Cyprus – was able to derail the process. Without EU backing for Monaco’s proposal, it becomes increasingly unlikely that the bluefin tuna will find succor. Rather, it will probably fall back under the domain of ICCAT – the very organization through whose lack of potency this magnificent fish has found itself in such dire straits.
This is not progress.
Want to point the finger at someone in particular? No problem. This nauseating story boasts two particularly villainous figures.
Environmental enemy #1: Joe Borg
It's all about the euros
Joe Borg, Maltese, is the EU Commissioner of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs. Though his political savvy, the bluefin tuna mafia of Malta, Italy, and the rest of the Mediterranean was able to accomplish its shockingly myopic goal of keeping this fishery open. It’s probably not necessary to be reminded that northern bluefin tuna populations have crashed to such a level that, if current fishing trends continue, they will be commercially extinct within two years. Someone please explain to me why countries that depend on fishing for their livelihood would strive to eliminate the very lifeblood of their economy through an unabashed short-term cash grab?
Environmental enemy #2: Nicolas Sarkozy
Bye bye bluefin
Remember all that nice stuff I said about Sarkozy a couple months ago? I take it all back. France’s first citizen has proven himself the worst type of turncoat; a traitor to his people and his planet. France was the first country to step forward and support Prince Grimaldi’s proposal, but in recent weeks, Sarkozy has reversed his position and allied with the Mediterranean states. If France had not switched camps, the proposal would have most likely been endorsed by the EU. From a certain perspective, the actions of one individual may have doomed the world’s largest bony fish to an ignominious demise.
Want to tell Sarkozy what you think of his actions? Send him this letter. It’s in French — here’s an English translation, courtesy of Greenpeace UK.
Fortunately, all is not lost. We can still save this animal – but yes, it is going to be more difficult that in otherwise would have been.
First of all, there is a chance that Europe will reverse its position. Lobbying efforts are underway in France and other key countries, and if the balance of power can be swung away from the Mediterranean, the European Commission may vote in favor of the proposal after all. Unfortunately, we most likely won’t know how this will fall out until early next year. So, in the interim, Monaco’s proposal needs a new champion.
Crimes against nature
There is a meeting in Brazil in November that will revisit this issue. Before it kicks off, we need to convince the government of a major world power to take a stand on this – and frankly, the best candidate is the United States. If we can get Washington to step up, we can still save the bluefin tuna from extinction.
We’re gaining momentum here in the States. The Coastal Conservation Association, a major recreational fishing association, has taken up the banner and is pushing to have Northern bluefin listed under CITES Appendix I. President Obama’s Ocean Taskforce is traveling about the country holding open hearings on ocean issues, and the administration seems receptive to the idea of pushing this issue and creating marine reserves in the Gulf of Mexico to protect the bluefin spawning grounds. And numerous environmental groups and activists soldier on, waving the flag and shouting to the rooftops.
Dying for a miracle
Please, spread the word and get involved. If we can create a groundswell of support, we can regain momentum.
Tell your friends and co-workers about this critical issue. Support Greenpeace’s actions in France and help us get Paris back on track. Avoid sushi restaurants like Nobu that serve endangered bluefin tuna. Most importantly – don’t give up on this amazing animal just yet. We can still turn things around.
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.