The (Tuna) Tragedy of the Commons

Dot Earth
By Andrew Revkin

There was new evidence early this week that the world has not yet absorbed just how deeply humans have depleted our “exhausted oceans.” At the latest meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, created under a treaty 42 years ago to manage shared fisheries in that ocean, European governments ignored a strong recommendation from the group’s own scientific advisers for deep cuts in some harvests of the Atlantic bluefin tuna. On its face, that would seem to be a strange development considering that the organization’s Web site says flatly: “Science underpins the management decisions made by I.C.C.A.T.

But such moves seem unremarkable, for now, in a world seeking to manage limited, shared natural resources while also spurring economic growth — whether the resource is the global atmosphere or an extraordinary half-ton, ocean-roaming predator. The European stance — insisting on a harvest in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean 50 percent above the limit recommended by scientists — was sharply criticized by environmental campaigners, marine biologists and United States fisheries officials. Some biologists criticized the United States, as well, for playing down the role of American fishers, both recreational and commercial, in destroying the once-bountiful fishery.

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