Japan sees red

19 Nov 2010

Not the Same Old Tuna – #1
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas and its adjacent seas – ICCAT.
17th -27th November Paris

Already in the first hours of the meeting, the Japanese showed their inflexibility on the origin and the traceability of bluefin tuna, of which they are the principal consumer world wide. The Japanese delegation tore into the system of tracking and controlling which was put in place by ICCAT and implemented by the fishing-states. The exporting countries were carefully put in the line of accusation. According to Japan, the fishing of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea is illegally done. Miraculously, all the tuna captured weigh between 31 and 32 kg; the minimum regulatory weight being 30 kg. Japan estimates that half of the bluefin tuna captured weigh less than 30 kg. It is interesting that the compilation of 17 B.C.D.s (Bluefin Catch Documents) show 5,258 tuna captured and put in fish farms during 6 months and 6,350 tuna released. From the Mediterranean catch to the fish market in Tokyo, the list of shady transactions and breaches in regulation is long. Transportation before the final harvest of tuna results in a certain number of losses, but the death rate resulting from this transportation is not recorded. The distance from the fishing zone to the farms is very long, between 500 and 800 nautical miles to Spain, Malta, Croatia, Greece, and Tunisia. The time spent in transit cages can last up to 2 months and the expected mortality rate is 20 – 25%. The tuna that die during transport disappear from the fishing quotas attributed to each country; the fish are either consumed by the crew or sold illegally. Tuna is then put in growing cages without the written authorization of the ship’s flag state. This anomaly is not especially astonishing when tugs registered with Honduras, the black flag of the maritime community, are used by EU states to deliver tuna to their farming activities. Japan estimates that the closing of tuna farms will become necessary if additional measures of tracking and control do not thwart bad habits and current routine. As the principal consumer of bluefin tuna, they demand that ICCAT forbids joint fishing operations which mobilize several ships and flags of several states together. They also demand that each marine farm records the growth of all captured tuna and shares the results. Japan believes another crucial point is having international observers aboard the tug boats, which are the link between fishing boats and marine farms.

“If your fish are badly documented, do not export them” Japan threw out to the astounded delegations of the EU and North Africa. The position of consumer responsibility played by Japan is praiseworthy; it would be useful for Japan to speak out with as much detail and harshness against whale hunting, an industry that the Japanese fleet is about to take one more time to Antarctica (see Robin des Bois’ press release).

Observers unable to observe

These first two days of the special meeting of ICCAT were devoted to non conformity, or with regulations and resolutions that ICCAT intends to implement; a first report examined the functionality of international observers taken aboard fishing boats, and in the marine farms.

High-sea fishing of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean is practiced with seines and 68 purse seine vessels out of 93 were the focus of a quick inspection of security equipment. Thirteen ships were lacking life rafts, 3 were equipped with life rafts with an insufficient capacity, 1 had an expired lifeboat, 3 did not have enough life jackets and 35 were lacking distress beacons, resulting in many violations of the maritime convention SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea). These distressing facts were discovered during the 2010 fishing campaign. They confirm the social decline of offshore fishermen in the Mediterranean, and the negligence of ship-owners and security inspections in ports.

The pillar of the plan to restore bluefin tuna stock is the verification of quotas attributed to each state. However, the picture is not reassuring in this field. It is proving more difficult to count the tuna that are captured and transferred by seines to transit cages (and then from the transit cages to the growing cages) than to count the number of protests between Place de la République and Place de la Bastille in Paris. “All the observers say that it is impossible to get a visual estimate of the number of tuna captured.” Contrary to conventional fishing techniques, the fish stay in the water after capture and the tuna fishermen do not have the equipment necessary to evaluate, in a reliable manner, the number and the weight of captured fish. The transfer of tuna between the seine and the transit cage, with the assistance of divers acting as wardens, is the best opportunity to observe and count the tuna, but the fish do not pass one by one, and in the first phase of transfer, which lasts an hour, they swim in two directions, from the seine to the cage and from the cage to the seine. After the fact only the highest quality video would permit detailed examination and allow a reliable estimate of the quantity of tuna and their weight. Video surveillance is handled by a tug boat or the divers’ auxiliary ship. Under usual circumstances, they leave the location when the operation is finished and as a result the observers are not always, being far so away, able to obtain copies of the transfer videos. They therefore content themselves with videos of the fishing itself, when they exist and are of good quality.

Many delegations – Tunisia, Libya, Turkey, and Morocco – call the observers tourists, amateurs, liars, or troublemakers incapable of rendering clear and substantiated reports in a reasonable amount of time. They are supported in this sense by Croatia and Mauritania, who are surprised that students who are not sworn officials are expected to find these alleged infractions.

The observer program is harshly criticized. The EU and the USA recognize that the system is not perfect, and that there are numerous views on the progress but they insist however on the absolute necessity of maintaining the system. The fate of the observation program will be decided later and probably be brought to vote. “The observer program, it is becoming a nightmare for the Japanese government; how can one cope with it when the farm fattened tuna will arrive in our market at the end of this year?”


A new NGO: Libya

Hussin Zaroug, head of the Libyan delegation, presented on Nov. 18th a vibrant written call in favor of safeguarding the bluefin tuna. Libya proposes banning fishing of bluefin tuna in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean for 2 years, 2011 and 2012. It is estimated that this courageous decision would stop the bluefin tuna stocks from collapsing and would protect the interests of future generations.

Faithful to its loathing of CITES, (Convention on the International Trade of Endangered flora and fauna Species) Libya had thrown to the side at Doha the proposition to include the bluefin tuna in appendix I (see Robin des Bois’ press release A fine kettle of fish, March 18th 2010)-, Hussin Zaroug underlines that the Libyan proposition would permit saving ICCAT from all interference from another international committee. For Libya, it is clear that the principal danger for bluefin tuna is CITES, with its police power and its direct relation with many countries’ customs offices. To reiterate, Robin des Bois is for the inclusion of the bluefin tuna in appendix II of CITES which authorizes international commerce while at the same time subjecting it to strict terms. The directors of ICCAT have declared many times that they are favorable to cooperation with CITES, and reiterated this willingness during the inaugural speech of the meeting in Paris.






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