Photo: Arne Listunder a Creative Commons license.
A Greenpeace protest against tuna fishing in the Mediterranean turned violent yesterday when an activist was harpooned in the leg by a French fisherman. Armed with sandbags, Greenpeace members planned to weigh down fishing nets attached to the boat to the point where the trapped tuna could escape. The fishermen did not take the attack lightly, however, striking the protesters with poles and sinking one of their boats. The encounter came to a head when Frank Huston, a British Greenpeace member, was struck in the leg by either a boat hook. (He is expected to recover.) A video of the encounter was released by Greenpeace France, though it offers no clues as to how the situation turned violent. Watch:
Greenpeace has put the blame solely on the shoulders of the fishermen, representative Isabelle Philippe said:
In a non-violent action, Greenpeace activists in zodiac boats attempted to lower the side of a purse seine net with sand bags to free the fish. At that moment, fishermen violently attacked the activists, harpooning one of them through the leg.
Greenpeace France director Pascal Husting, echoed the sentiment:
The tuna fishermen only know brutality: all our militants have are bags of sand to weigh down the nets and free the fish.
Greenpeace described their activity as "direct action" rather than violent, but authorities at France's National Maritime Fisheries Committee disagree:
The French fishermen were attacked by helmeted Greenpeace activists, equipped for and engaged in a violent operation - the destruction of a work tool...After trying to get the species classified as endangered, based on an erroneous reading of the scientific facts regarding the stock of bluefin tuna, now (Greenpeace) assumes the right to attack fishermen out at sea.
Although the fishing of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean is technically legal, it is far from sustainable. In fact, the United States and the EU-including France- supported an international trade ban on tuna fished from these waters. The proposal was defeated by lobbying from Japan- where most of the tuna caught becomes sushi.
While Greenpeace activists certainly deserve credit for their dedication and bravery- Huston pulled the hook out of his leg himself- one wonders whether or not they crossed the line. We would love to see a ban on this unsustainable practice, but there has got to be a better, more definitively peaceful, way to go about it.