Sea Shepherd Begins 'Operation Blue Rage' - Sails to Protect Endangered Bluefin Tuna in Mediterranean


photo: Sea Shepherd

Fresh off success harassing Japan's whaling fleet in Antarctic waters, members of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have just sailed from New York in the Steve Irwin and are en route to the Mediterranean to undertake Operation Blue Rage. The goal is to defend the endangered bluefin tuna against illegal fishing operations, responsible for taking four times more fish than the legal quota, which are already so high that at current rates extinction for the fish is likely within a few years.

Bluefin Tuna Stocks Down 97% in Mediterranean
In case you don't know what the big deal about bluefin tuna is all about, Sea Shepherd has prepared an Atlantic Bluefin Tuna fact sheet. Here are the relevant highlights on the state of the species:

  • Since the early 1900's when factory fishing was introduced, the bluefin numbers been reduced by 90% and in the Mediterranean it is down to 97%.
  • Between 1970 and 1998, there was 70% drop. This shows the rapid acceleration of the decline.
  • In 2009, 72% decline in the Eastern Atlantic, and 82% decline in the Western Atlantic. Same year,  Monaco formally declared as endangered.
  • At a United Nations-backed conference aimed at regulating international trade in endangered species, the total ban on bluefin tuna fishing and trading was rejected on March 18, 2010. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) voted 68 to 20 with 30 European abstentions.

Sea Shepherd Will Enforce Laws Against Bluefin Poaching
Meeting with Locky Maclean, First Officer of the Steve Irwin, on Friday I asked about the practical difficulties about going against illegal bluefin fishing versus whaling. After all, with whaling the vessels are limited and well known. Maclean acknowledged that with the CITES resolution to ban commercial bluefin trade failed things are a bit more complicated, but noted two things that make their job easier.

First, the legal season for bluefin tuna is just 30-days. "Where we come into play, where we can operate and enforce, is on vessels fishing outside that season, after the June 15th cutoff or before the May 15th start date. If we come across vessels purse seining outside of that time frame...we're in a position to enforce [the law]." Second, there is the ICCAT list of vessels, "enables us to know the names of the vessels which cannot fish in that area."

So, if the Steve Irwin is sailing to enforce the law, who isn't enforcing the law? National governments in the region should be, but either through lack of will or lack of capability aren't. Additionally, there is a mafia connection to illegal Mediterranean fishing as well, making the situation all the more complicated.

Read more: Operation Blue Rage
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More on Sea Shepherd:
Sea Shepherd Harassment Cuts Japanese Whale Catch in Half
Japan Kills Sea Shepherd Anti Whaling Ship. For Scientific Research?
Sea Shepherd's Bob Barker Collides With Japanese Whaler (Video)

More on Bluefin Tuna:
Japan Will Ignore Bluefin Tuna Ban, Says The Fish Isn't That Endangered
Endangered Bluefin Tuna Fetches Record Price at Tokyo Auction
CITES Votes No on Bluefin Tuna Ban: Japanese Embassy Serves the Endangered Delicacy at Pre-Convention Reception

Tags: Activism | Endangered Species | Fishing