What’s happening in the Science News section at the Washington Post? A recent story about bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) made me wonder exactly what’s going on behind the journalist’s desk. The article in question is called “Advocates hope science can save big tuna”, published Dec. 24, 2007.
The Post article reviews scientific approaches that illustrate bluefin tuna migrations to and from spawning grounds in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean Sea, then notes the bluefin populations are plummeting, but finally surrenders the problem to “political will” and the federal government. This is less than I would expect from a Washington based commercial newspaper. You could get more information from blogs like this one.
So what’s the point of running the article on Christmas Eve in the Washington Post? Are the journalists reporting news here, or are they simply “awareness building”? As a conservationist, I appreciate any and all efforts to raise awareness about the plight of the bluefin tuna, but it’s aggravating to me that this particular story does not identify the real problem, nor the solution. The Post puts this important story in the hands of millions, but fails to deliver.
The authors interview several important researchers, but the quotes are put together like a patchwork quilt. Even worse, they’re innocuous. “We’re catching nothing” said NMFS Director Bill Hogarth. The conclusion of the article contradicts the title. “The law requires better stewardship than [government officials] sitting on their hands and doing nothing,” said Carl Safina. If the comments section had been left open on the online article, I may not have written this. I could have fumed there. But, “comments are closed for this item”. This wouldn’t happen at ScienceBlogs.
Let’s pick up where the Washington Post left off. They concluded the problem is a federal one. However, the United States is a signatory to the International Commission for Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT), which means we must play by international rules. The only law that trumps international law is another international law. As a federal agency, NOAA Fisheries has their hands tied. If ICCAT says to fish Gulf of Mexico tuna during the spawning season, that’s what will happen. Safina half-jokingly called ICCAT the “International Conspiracy to Catch All Tuna” in his book Song for a Blue Ocean. The group is notorious for their failure to manage the decades old problem of declining tuna stocks. It has been suggested that commercial fishing interests control ICCAT.
Ultimately, to address the problem of declining Atlantic bluefin stocks in federal waters the United States will need to pursue one of three options: 1) withdraw from ICCAT, 2) mediate the ICCAT decisions or 3) find an international agreement to override their rulings. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would be my first candidate to overrule ICCAT. As the Mediterranean population of bluefin tuna continues to decline, the onus is upon us, meaning Canada, Mexico, and the United States to gain control of the North American fishery.