Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bye bye bluefin

The news about the bluefin tuna just keeps on coming. This week we had an exclusive story with some new predictions that the bluefin tuna population in the Med and the Northeast Atlantic is about to collapse. The only way of avoiding this with any certainty is a ban on fishing. However the current strategy for conserving the bluefin tuna involves more fishing and fishing that will cause the population to decline so precipitously that it would qualify as critically endangered.

As the story details, despite fine words about a ban at the IUCN meeting a month in October, the European Union, and the UK are heading to a crucial meeting held by ICCAT with a mandate that seems to do all it can to avoid actually mention moratorium. (See our piece and also this AFP report). While WWF is encouraged by signs in Italy and Spain of interest in a moratorium on bluefin tuna fishing, it is of course the EU/EC that has the seat at the table (which is one of the most important among the 46 nations involved in ICCAT).

The EC contends that it has done a good job on managing the bluefin through ICCAT, despite all evidence to the contrary. Matters are coming to head, though, at this November's meeting.

Underscoring this was a letter from ICCAT chairman Dr Fabio Hazin which was sent on October 31st to all the delegates. He writes, "I believe that this upcoming ICCAT meeting may very well be the most important one our Commission ever faced. ICCAT credibility is seriously at stake at this moment and our fate will be sealed ultimately by the decisions we make at Marrakech".

Every year, the politicians at ICCAT ignore the scientific advice. This year, there is more talk of heeding the scientific advice. But there is still plenty of wiggle room. A EC spokesperson said "there is not only one scientific advice". Within any estimate is a degree of uncertainty, and this can typically be exploited to allow for more fishing. One of the scientists who reworked the ICCAT data, said that some of the assumptions that had been made up in their models were incredibly optimistic.

In an interview, Andy Rosenberg, a fisheries scientist at the University of New Hampshire, also questioned the degree to which the scientific committee at ICCAT were truly independent. He says the scientists do a good job, but ultimately the committee is taking its "marching orders from the various members states. The science committee is asked to analyse various options."

He adds, "it really is up to governments and governments will respond to public pressure. But it is always too slow. Its a matter of people saying that this isn't acceptable. We need public outrage, this is the common heritage of mankind and an international resource and this is how we are dealing with it".

More soon on this. But for now I'll leave you with a few more of Dr Hazin's words.

"Let's not fool ourselves: there will be no future for ICCAT if we do not fully respect and abide by the scientific advice.... our credibility will be irreversibly jeopardized and the mandate to manage tuna stocks will surely be taken out of our hands. "

"...we must be aware that this is our very last chance to prove that we can do our job properly. if we fail, other institutions will take over. And if one stock falls out of our hands, others may well do likewise."

"please make every effort to ensure that your delegation will not miss such a crucial and historical moment for the Commission".

Managed to death
If nothing is done soon, the bluefin tuna will disappear from the MediterraneanOct 30th 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Endorsement and all that

I've been intrigued and slightly mystified at the number of people from all around the world who have asked me about which presidential candidate The Economist will endorse this time round--as if our endorsement would makes the slightest bit of difference to the outcome.

Any endorsement we give involves a slightly different calculus to that of most Americans. We wonder what is best for the world overall.. rather than what is best for America. We place a far greater emphasis on foreign relations, and stances towards various foreign, diplomatic or intergovernmental issues than Americans.

The decision is always a difficult one. While we are naturally drawn to the Republicans for their right wing economics... with its emphasis on free and unencumbered trade, we are not drawn to the right-wing social views with regards to issues such as capital punishment, homosexual marriage, creationism and abortion. While the Democrats score highly here, they always lose points on the free trade issue--which is a large part of what we are about. So it can be hard to endorse a Democrat. Unless of course there is no alternative.

Last time, we gave a very grudging support for Kerry (not that it made any difference), and probably because the alternative option was so bad. Anyway, our 2008 endorsement is coming up this week. Watch out. I firmly predict that it will make absolutely no difference at all.

For light amusement, check out this round up of previous presidential endorsements from our archive.

Coming up this Thursday/Friday, even more on bluefin tuna. The story is moving on. I'm finding myself absolutely amazed at how poor the management of the bluefin tuna is in the Atlantic. It is an absolute disgrace. Yet the politicians seem to be able to get away with continuing business as usual because the world at large doesn't really get worked up about overfishing.

Also published today, my recent correspondent's diary from Istanbul.

Correspondent's diary: Science in Istanbul, day one

An odd crowd congregates in a stunning city

Monday, October 20, 2008

Out of tuna

Bluefin tuna. Incredibly valuable, and increasingly rare. This marvellous fish is being hunted to extinction in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

Can anything be done? Maybe if the members of The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas manage to pull their collective fingers out. Bluefin tuna fishing needs to be banned for a period, while a real management plan can be agreed on.

For more see today's story:

Green.view: Sleeping with the fishes. High time to save the Mediterranean bluefin

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Space and more

Its been a busy month. I went to Istanbul on the 24th to give a talk on the media to a group of grid scientists. It was a challenge giving a talk to a roomful of people who were tapping away at their laptops. This, apparently, is what grid scientists do at their meetings. They multi-task by answering emails, browsing the web and listening to presentations. It will probably catch on, so watch out.

Then it was off to the International Astronautical Congress, a wonderful affair in Glasgow this year. From which I filed a piece about the latest developments in the privatisation of space travel.

Saint Anselmo's Fire. Some more steps towards the commercialisation of space travel. Oct 2nd 2008

Related to this I also sent in a green.view about the environmentally critical new bit of space hardware, the Orbiting Climate Observatory.

A is for earth. The world will soon know more about carbon dioxide. Oct 6th 2008 Web only

After this I headed up to visit a company called Oxford Nanopore, which is working on a new way of sequencing DNA. About which, more soon.

Other recent articles:

Green.view The greening of gardening. Horticulture will change as the climate does. Sep 22nd 2008 Web only

Green.view Win-win. Save the world and become a millionaire. Sep 8th 2008 Web only

Hardygrades. One small step for the animal kingdom. Sep 11th 2008

LEADER Economies of scales. A new way of saving fisheries shows it can work; it deserves more attention. Sep 18th 2008

A rising tide. Scientists find proof that privatising fishing stocks can avert a disaster. Sep 18th 2008