A rearguard action by Mediterranean fishing nations, including Spain, Italy and France, blocked moves to get the European Union to support a worldwide ban. Lobbying by Japan, whose sushi trade is heavily dependent on Europe’s bluefin exports, is thought to have played a vital role in the conservationists’ defeat.
The International Council for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna was established in 1969 after concerns that the species was being fished unsustainably when the fish came to spawn in the Mediterranean. Between 2001 and the present, the average size of bluefin tuna has shrunk by half. In October the organisation’s scientists found that the stock was below 15 per cent of its pre-exploitation levels, qualifying it for a ban on trade via the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
The European Union has given out tens of millions of euros to subsidise the Mediterranean tuna fishing fleets despite warnings from scientists that overfishing is pushing the species close to extinction.Between 2000 and 2008 a total of €34.5 million (£31.4 million) was given by the EU to support the fishing fleets. Over the eight-year period, €23 million was given to fund the construction of new boats, including ultra-modern purse seiners that are able to land 100 tonnes in one haul. A further €10.5 million was given to modernise existing vessels, increasing their ability to track down and catch the tuna. Only €1 million was used to decommission vessels, but mainly for small-scale, local boats.
This shows clearly the hypocrisy of the EU, which insists on the need to conserve fish stocks while simultaneously encouraging the rapid expansion of a fleet that was already too large.
The EU has now committed to reducing overcapacity, but we’re going to have to pay again for that. We’ve paid once to make these ships that have been used to make a few people rich. They’ve destroyed the bluefin – a common stock – and now they are going to ask for more money.