All eyes on France, as tuna wars loom

Paris and Brussels are presently seeing skirmishes over the fate of what’s become the oceans’ most iconic creature – the Atlantic bluefin tuna.

This week and next, the French capital hosts the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (Iccat) – the organisation charged with ensuring this species and many others are fished sustainably, but which has in conservationists’ eyes so badly mismanaged its task over the years as to garner the alternative appellation of the International Conspiracy to Catch All Tunas.

Earlier this year, Iccat’s scientific advisers said continuing at this year’s catch level of 13,500 tonnes was feasible but only carried about a 60% chance of rebuilding stocks by 2022.

You can call this a 40% chance of failure, if you want.

The European Commissioner for fisheries, Maria Damanaki, has suggested going for 6,000 tonnes a year.

But French agriculture and fisheries minister Bruno Le Maire said France is holding out for the full 13,500, which he described as “recommended by scientists”.

He also said French fishermen were “the most controlled, the most responsible and the most respectable” in the Mediterranean.

This was not endorsed by a report on a new Iccat scheme to monitor catches, which emerged a couple of months ago, and found that as things stand, it’s basically impossible to determine the true size of the annual catch.

Other EU countries, meanwhile, would prefer a catch of zero, at least for a few years, while stocks rebuild.