Saturday, November 20, 2010

Crystal ball management

I'm glad ICCAT's Week # 1 in Paris is ending today. Tomorrow is Sunday, and the annual assembly of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas will observe a pause. Then Week # 2 will begin Monday morning, and the delegates of the 48 member countries will need to be very creative, and very fast, to find a way of avoiding that, when the assembly ends on Saturday 27, it does not all look like a sham.

The week started with a successful seminar on Tuesday at the Oceanographic Institute which I'd spent two months putting together. I went to bed very late that night, because the plan was to have the report prepared by IISD Reporting Services available in three languages on the following morning when the ICCAT Compliance Committee would begin.

Wednesday was also hectic, with at the same time an eye on the ICCAT Compliance Committee and a couple of cellphones on both ears connected with Brussels where the EU member States were trying to figure out what to do in response to the proposal by the EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki (a 50% reduction in the Mediterranean bluefin tuna Total Allowable Catch for 2011). What Damanaki had proposed was the right thing to do: basically it would have allowed for a continuation of artisanal fisheries and stopped the industrial operations responsible for the Mediterranean bluefin tuna crisis (in just three decades 85% of the population has gone!). It was encouraging to see the EU Commissioner trying her best, but she got bullied by the French Agriculture and Fisheries Minister who led a mutiny (with support from Spain and Italy) against the EU proposal. As a result now, instead of a bluefin-tuna-saving-plan what the EU has got is only an EU-face-saving-plan: they're talking of a "partial reduction" of around 1000 or 1500 tons that won't help speeding up the bluefin recovery. As Richard Black wrote in his blog on Wednesday, all eyes are on France. And the 1 million tuna question for Week 2 now that the young French Agriculture/Fisheries Minister Bruno Le Maire has shown to his clientèle of fishers that he can behave in Brussels like a 700 kilogramme macho bluefin in a China shop, is whether he can be smart enough to show flexibility. Now that he's off the fishers' hook, it would make sense for him to accept a real compromise in the coming days.

[There is a nice WWF-France video where I'm commenting on the French mutiny in Brussels]

The reason why the French position is not sustainable is because even in the most optimistic scenario envisaged by the scientists who've worked on the ICCAT Bluefin Stock Assessment, they warn that there's a 40% possible error margin. Under these circumstances, the precautionary principle should prevail, but France seems to choose to evoke precaution only when it fits them politically. However the precationary principle should not be considered a dish on an à la carte menu. A few years ago, the precautionary principle was even incorporated in the Constitution of the French Republic (the set menu).

The French/EU position is so bad that it makes Japan look very good. That's what we call in French le monde à l'envers, or questioning the conventional belief that the Japanese are ruthless fishers who empty everyone else's ocean for their own selfish benefit. The Japanese, who import 80% of the Mediterranean bluefin tuna are actually very concerned with the way the bluefin business is conducted in the Mediterranean, and they're demanding control and action.

In environmental management, ignoring severe uncertainties (including those caused by negligence and the resulting lack of control over illegal fishing) is what we call crystal ball management. So yesterday for the opening ceremony of the ICCAT Plenary, we displayed a fine crystal ball on all delegates' tables, with the following engraved words: "Not Intended to be used as a bluefin tuna management tool".

There is still another entire week of negotiations to come. So, it's still early to tell what will or might finally happen next week. Even though I have a crystal ball.