Tempers flared out at sea as environmentalists and fishermen sparred over the endangered Bluefish Tuna in the Mediterranean Sea just around World Ocean Day. In the last few days, Greenpeace activists and Maltese fishermen engaged in one violent and one peaceful altercation, resulting in a few freed tuna, an injured activist, several irate fishermen (who lost equipment and fish), and two sunken inflatable boats belonging to Greenpeace.
The fishermen were operating under a legal European Union fishing quota when Greenpeace activists attempting to stay the tide of tuna extinction moved to cut their lines and net cages. The tuna would have been sent to “fat farms” so they could put on weight prior to being sold on the Japanese market. Though harsh, the methods used to protect tuna reflect their dire plight.
[image via flickr]
On the verge of extinction
Nearly 80% of the large, migratory fish, which live in the Western and Eastern Atlantic as well as the Mediterranean, have been fished out according to a Greenpeace report. This is problematic since the tuna’s high metabolic rate ensures they consume large quantities of prey, which in turn plays an important role in the Mediterranean’s ecosystem balance. (like whale poop does)
Activists believe that governments are not doing enough to protect the fish, while the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recommends a temporary ban on commercial fishing until such time that the population is restored to healthy, sustainable levels. They also recommend that countries curb heavy industrial fishing practices that have caused the EU to reach their share of the quota one week before June 15th, which is the last day of tuna fishing season.
What will the fishermen do?
Meanwhile, thousands of Mediterranean fishermen are at risk of losing their livelihood if a ban is put in place. One hundred and fifty thousand fishermen in Manila alone face job losses as a result of a severely restricted fishing industry. The Federation of Malta Aquaculture was openly critical of Greenpeace’s recent activism, citing that fishermen are already subjected to “unprecedented levels of controls…within legal/sustainable limits.”
A highly charged and complicated issue – since people’s lives depend on fishing and selling tuna, and the tuna’s survival depends on a fishing hiatus – policy-makers would do well to look to examples of other restored habitats.
The brook trout and salmon are among two endangered fish species in the US, for example, that enjoy a certain degree of protection, though with no less controversy, and with a different set of parameters to consider.
A fair sacrifice in the short run and better policy in the future could potentially save the tuna from extinction. If the tuna lives, everybody wins. And if it becomes extinct, not only will there be considerable job loss, but we will have to face yet another threat to environmental stability. The WWF says it is not yet too late.