The United States has finally stood up and done something about the overfishing of Atlantic bluefin tuna, announcing today that it’s backing an international proposal to ban trade in the species. The seemingly doomed bluefin has been on my mind since I watched the powerful film documentary The End of the Line, which just came out on DVD. The film holds up the bluefin as the current poster fish of overconsumption, perhaps destined to join the Atlantic cod in the legion of collapsed fisheries, and contains unnerving footage of writhing piles of tuna being netted, gaffed, and dismembered. Watch the trailer here:
While the U.S. support for the bluefin ban is good news, it’s tempered by the fact that Japan, which eats 80 percent of the world’s bluefin catch, has said it will not sign on to the agreement. Japan contends that calling the fish endangered is an overstatement, and prefers that tuna be regulated by a different framework than the one supported by the U.S., the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES.
“A ban would only succeed if the United States and other countries apply maximum diplomatic pressure on Japan to change course,” the Boston Globe wrote in an editorial this week. I’m not sure what form “maximum diplomatic pressure” would take, but in my mind it’s time to stop being diplomatic: President Obama should use his presidential bully pulpit to tell Japan in strong language that the United States is ready to impose trade restrictions in other areas if Japan continues its intransigence on this issue. The bluefin deserves no less.