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Point of View: If I were a bluefin tuna

Melanie Siggs
By Melanie Siggs
May 01, 2010

If I were a bluefin tuna, I'd be feeling paranoid. It seems I can't rely on anyone for help these days. Only a few months ago, a host of international politicians were falling over each other to be acknowledged for their pledge to support an international trade ban on 
bluefin tuna under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The United States decided to support Monaco's proposed CITES listing, and the European Union eventually came on board as well, supporting a slightly weaker but still effective 
version of the proposal. Potential political poetry was in motion; conservation groups dared to hope that bluefin tuna might have cause for celebration. But in March, bluefin tuna joined other marine species as political pawns when the proposed CITES trade protection was defeated.

So, if I were a bluefin tuna, I might rely on the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT). But in 2009, ICCAT proceeded with a 13,500-metric-ton bluefin quota, much higher than the zero quota called for by leading conservation groups and scientists. If history repeats itself we can expect that quota to be significantly abused, with 
no retribution.

So, as a bluefin tuna, I can't rely on politicians, the very commission that purports to "conserve" me, or scientists because it seems no one is listening to them. I probably need to rely on the NGOs [non-governmental organizations] to keep my case high on the agenda.

Maybe my real hope lies in the markets to do the right thing. There's only a bluefin tuna industry if there's a market to supply. What we need now is a significant 'call to arms' from the market makers themselves to stop buying bluefin tuna and vigorously lobby for an enforced recov-
ery plan.

There are enough tuna alternatives in the world; people with the privilege of choice, whether attributed to tradition or not, do not need to eat critically endangered species. Indeed, armed with the privilege of choice it could be argued that it is traditional markets and wealthy consumers who are best positioned to make smart choices and lead by example. However, in the unlikely event of a mass 
behavioral change at the consumer level, and a fear of shifting opportunity to less scrupulous bodies by those willing to stop buying bluefin tuna, what can be done?

Markets should be pushing for proper fisheries management and government regulation. ICCAT needs to be brought to task to ensure they implement a robust and precautionary recovery plan. We cannot ignore the plight of those who make a living from bluefin tuna, but collectively we have to find new answers - they cannot be allowed to wipe out a species. Without a CITES listing, appropriate fisheries management or robust government regulation, bluefin tuna buyers risk buying illegal fish in the short term, and being responsible for the extinction of a species in the medium term.

It is now up to the market to step in and act. If I were a bluefin tuna, I might 
figure this would be my 
last chance.


Melanie Siggs is VP of sustainable markets for Sea-Web, which provides leadership and creates opportunities for change across the industry and conservation community.


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