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Behind the Tuna in the U.S. Senate

There’s a wee bit of irony in the name of one of the presenters at this year’s special meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas: Dr. G. Hurry. A hurry, after all, is exactly what has not taken place in plans to save the bluefin tuna from extinction.

bluefin tuna greenpeace demonstration in FranceNo, it’s not an exaggeration to use the word extinction to describe the bluefin tuna’s plight. Scientific American does so in reference to the 90 percent drop in the fish’s population, referred to by the ICCAT as a “severe decline”. This month, Greenpeace dumped 5 tons of fish heads – specifically, the heads of slaughtered bluefin tuna – at the door of the French Ministry of Agriculture in protest of the Ministry’s failure to confront the problem of bluefin overfishing.

I’m not any special kind of tuna lover, but the urgency of this issue came to my attention way back in February of this year. I would have thought, therefore, that somebody in Congress would have been on the job by that time. With a fish as economically important as bluefin tuna, extinction wouldn’t just be an environmental disaster. It would be an economic catastrophe as well – and that’s the last thing we need right now.

So, was Congress on the job? Sadly, no. Congress is behind the tuna. About a year ago, S. Res. 368, a resolution sponsored by Senator John Kerry calling for a moratorium on fishing for bluefin tuna in the Atlantic, was passed – but that was just a resolution. No moratorium has been put into place.

This year, the tuna rescue legislation is even more pathetic. On Thursday, November 20, The Senate Commerce Committee agreed to S. Res. 709, a resolution that urges the 16th Special Meeting of the ICCAT to “pursue a meaningful assessment” of whether Commission member nations are following the rules by the Commission, and urges a temporary suspension of fishing starting one year from now, unless “significant progress toward establishing science-based management measures, improving monitoring and control measures, and addressing compliance issues” at the ICCAT takes place. Talk about kid gloves. From what I’m seeing from the ICCAT’s special meeting, the Commission is moving as slowly as a molasses spill in the Arctic Ocean.

We need strong action, from both the ICCAT and the U.S. Congress, but even S. Res. 709, the resolution to urge the ICCAT to work faster, couldn’t get done on time. The 16th Special Meeting of the ICCAT started three days before the Senate Commerce Committee considered S. Res. 709. The meeting is over tomorrow, long before the Senate could ever get around to actually passing the resolution. On the eve of the closure of the meeting, the text of S. Res. 709 hasn’t even been received by the Library of Congress yet.

If Congress and the ICCAT can’t stop their dawdling, tuna may soon no longer be known as the chicken of the sea. Its new nickname may become the passenger pigeon of the sea.

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