Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bluefin de siècle

It gives me absolutely no satisfaction to report that my previous posting about the stinky politics of bluefin tuna turned out to be entirely accurate. European nations failed to vote for a proposal to list the bluefin tuna as an endangered species on Monday.

Lets roll back to July, when President Nicolas Sarkozy made a fine speech calling for a ban on the trade in bluefin tuna. How, then, is it that France was one of the six nations that did not support a ban in the trade of this species? I do hope that Prince Albert of Monaco, who recently had the insight to ban the sale of bluefin in the principality, will not be inviting the President and his wife out for sushi any time soon.

21 other European nations supported the ban. Those that opposed were Malta, Cyprus, Spain, Italy, France, and Greece. [see update]

Its a common myth that journalists have to balance a story. In fact, we are supposed to report the truth. Balance is only really useful if you have no idea where the truth lies. (This is why, for example, the media was engaged in a long struggle that is now over, over whether to "balance" stories about climate change.) In this case the truth is that this decision by these six nations is just simply wrong and Europe's politicians have failed yet again to do their jobs.

Its not just France. Last year we had the Spanish and the Japanese strutting around at an international conservation meeting (IUCN) claiming to support a ban on the trade in bluefin--presumably because it was good public relations to be seen to be doing something at this forum. A year later we have to swallow the stomach-churning hypocrisy of the behind-the-scenes work of the Japanese lobbying Europe hard against the ban, and the Spanish trying to organise outright opposition. (Do the delegates to these meetings not mind being made to look like idiots for backing a policy that is undermined behind the scenes by the rest of the government?)

How can this happen?

In trying to fathom it out, I am reminded of an episode of the hit US series Ugly Betty when Marc takes a female date with him when he meets his parents in order to conceal the fact that he is gay. In the slang, the female date was his "beard" to make him look more masculine.

I guess what this is all leading up to is that I'm wondering is whether all these big announcements that governments are going to save the bluefin are actually little more than "green beards" which seek to conceal the true orientation of their governments. (I would invite others to nominate their politicians for "green beard" awards in this vein, for politicians who make big environmental announcements but who actually do the opposite behind closed doors. It can easily be accomplished with an impish attitude and a copy of Photoshop.)

I have to say, if the green beard is the explanation for all these 180 degree turns in policy then it must be very disheartening for the civil servants working in the environment departments of various ministries around the world to find themselves being used as PR flunkies for bad environmental policy.

Instead of helping, they are promoting the idea that their government is doing something meaningful, responding to public pressure, when the government is quietly doing the exact opposite behind the scenes.

Luckily there is still hope for a bluefin listing. Although the niceties of the convention on endangered species dictate that "range" states be the ones to propose a species for listing there are a number of other range states that might decide to step up to the plate. These include US, Canada, Brazil, as well as Norway and others. The bluefin tuna has stocks in both sides of the Atlantic. And while the stock on the American side is not collapsing as badly as that of the stock on the European side, bluefin do travel between the two stocks and it is impossible to differentiate between them at port. So any of these states are within their rights to put the bluefin up for a CITES listing now that Europe has failed.

Wouldn't it be ironic if Brazil were to propose the bluefin for listing? Brazil, which is constantly being lectured about protecting its vast biodiversity and rainforests by northern Europe. How delicious if it had to step in to protect one single species simply because the politicians in Malta, Cyprus, Spain, Italy, France, and Greece are too spineless to do it. [see update]

At the moment there has been a bit of a waiting game with everyone waiting to see what the Europeans would do. Well, governments of Norway, Canada, Brazil and America, lets get this job done. ICCAT is embarrassment to everyone.

Please do not make me report again on this farce of a meeting next December knowing that its closed door backroom deals are all that stands between the bluefin and extinction for the next two years.


1. Portugal changed to Greece throughout. Portugal surprisingly voted for a ban. Just goes to show, you can't trust everything you read in the newspapers.

2. please email me your nominations for the best "green beard" awards for politicians who advocate green policies but do entirely the opposite elsewhere or behind the scenes.

3. I have corrected the confusion between the eastern and western side of the Atlantic.