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No Reprieve For Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

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View David Lawlor's blog posts
30 November 2010, 3:26 PM
International commission falls short of protecting threatened fish species
A banner hung in Paris during last week's International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna meetings.

Long ago in an economy far, far away, I was a writer for one of those trendy Internet-obsessed business magazines that doubled as the literary justification for Dot-com hedonism.

For a while I wrote interesting articles about the genius of WebVan and the marketing goulash that was, but as the bubble neared its ultimate bursting, the stories I wrote all started sounding the same. Company is down 50 cents to a dollar and a quarter today and NASDAQ threatened to delist the stock on projections that Company will post losses of $100 million annually for the next 10 years.

Soon enough, it became apparent that it wasn’t necessarily Company and its brethren that were to blame for the Dot-com crash. Rather, it was an investment and business model flawed at its fundamental core that prized hyper-techy hipness over practicality and common sense.

Similarly, the story of the Atlantic bluefin tuna is a broken record libretto recounted prior in the form of the Pacific Northwest's old-growth redwoods, the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico and the scarred mountaintops of Appalachia. The Atlantic bluefin tuna represents a big payday for commercial fishermen and is especially prized by the Japanese sushi market where it is served as sashimi, a raw fish delicacy. Accordingly, the plan is to take all the bluefin tuna that can be taken until there are simply none left to take.

Sad? Yes. Surprising? Not at all.

The Center for Biological Diversity has launched a Bluefin Boycott campaign to try and bring consumer attention to the plight of the fish that the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program rates “avoid.” Here at Earthjustice, we are using the courts to institute limits on longline fishing in the Gulf and working to earn better protections for the bluefin tuna.

And while the boycott and our legal efforts will hopefully meet with success, the notion of an ecosystem and wildlife bubble nearing its bursting point is all too real. I fear a repetition of stories lamenting an enduring loss of wildlife is just around the corner. It is one thing to opine tongue-in-cheek on the death of ill-conceived Internet start-ups, but quite another to routinely pen articles on the extinction of an entire species.

Until fundamental assumptions underlying the world’s economic system are addressed, the Atlantic bluefin tuna will simply be another chapter in a grand tale of greed and destruction.

But the decimation of the redwoods, the ruination of the Gulf ecosystem, the removal of Appalachian mountaintops, and the overfishing of Atlantic bluefin tuna are not anomalies; they are not stories of destruction spawned from coincidence and circumstance. Rather, they are the eventual, foreseeable outcome of an economic system where ever-increasing growth with disregard for the well-being of future generations is the paramount concern.

Thus, predictably enough, at meetings last week in Paris, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) made token reductions to the total allowable bluefin catch in the Mediterranean and Atlantic while refusing to ban fishing during the spawning season. In other words, in response to a fish species on the brink of extinction caused by overfishing, ICCAT shrugged its shoulders and carried on with business as usual.

Even warnings from ICCAT’s own scientists that continuing to catch bluefin tuna at current rates translates into a 30 to 40 percent chance that the entire stock will collapse, fell on deaf ears. Just like the timber companies fighting to fell the last remaining stands of old-growth redwoods, or the coal companies willing to destroy Appalachia’s landscape to mine every last seam of coal, governments and the fishing industry are prepared to catch Atlantic bluefin tuna until the species disappears completely.

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