Bluefin Elimination Competition
If some world body were charging those responsible for hunting the bluefin tuna to extinction, the crime would be conspiracy. In our July/August issue ("Down to the Last Sushi"), we reported on some of the forces arrayed against a proposed bluefin fishing ban. Now an intriguing joint report by the International
Consortium for Investigative Journalists and the nonprofit Television for the Environment has pushed the story much further in Looting the Seas: A Global Investigation. The exhaustive report and companion television documentary lay the blame on decades of fraud and illegal catches by fishing fleets with the tacit approval of friendly governments, and a thriving black market that accounts for as much as one third of all bluefin caught.
The questionable practices extend across the industry, ICIJ found, from fishing fleets and farms, through ministry offices, to distributors in Japan. Led by the French, Spanish, and Italians, joined by Turks and others, Mediterranean fishermen violated official quotas at will and engaged in an array of illegal practices: misreporting catch size, hiring banned spotter planes, catching undersized fish, and
plundering tuna from North African waters where EU inspectors are refused entry. An illicit market even arose in trading quotas — when regulators finally started enforcing the rules — in which one vessel sells its nation’s quota to a foreign vessel that had overfished.
A particularly depressing section attempts to pinpoint which of the (most Mediterranean) tuna-fishing nations is most at fault. After it admitted to overfishing in the last 1990s, France was roundly denounced. "I can't tell you the criticism we suffered," the report quotes a French bluefin-industry official. "We were denounced by the Spanish and the Italians, who cheated even more than we did."
As Andy Revkin notes today in Dot Earth, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas is set to meet later this month. They have their work cut out for them.