World Tuna Day - My take / by Francisco Blaha

Until now 2 of May was quite a sombre day in my life for something that happened exactly 35 years ago, and I guess among many other things made me very aware of the rights of coastal states (and the fragility of life, the stupidity of wars, etc., etc.). Is totally coincidental (but very appropriate for my life) that the UN General Assembly proclaimed 2 May World Tuna Day, spotlighting the vital socioeconomic importance of tuna around the world. 

 More than just a fish to me.

More than just a fish to me.

And yes, I’m one among the estimated 22000 people in the Pacific whose livelihoods depend directly and completely of Tuna. An industry that at its base produces some 256 million cases of tuna that are consumed annually, amounting to U$D 7.5 billion, yet around only 600 to 700 million come back to the resources owners, the Pacific Island Countries (PICs) where over 60% of the world tuna resources originate. 

Tuna has served as an important source of food for people across the Pacific islands for centuries.  However, there are serious challenges to their long-term sustainability, as there is more fishing effort for tuna than for any other group of fish, and the overwhelming majority of this effort is by Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFN). 

And this is an issue of overarching importance since confronting interests are pushing tuna sustainability. There is a fundamental (and perhaps unbridgeable) difference; as clearly expressed to me, by my Nauruan friend and colleague Monte Depaune last year:

“for non PICs and DWFNs the issue of sustainability is one of long-term financial benefit. However, for Coastal States PICs it is also a food security issue, one that DWFNs have less trouble with, as they can leave… but PICs cannot”. 

Tuna is the lifeline of the Pacific but the balance of benefits is entirely skewed, in a way that has not moved far from the times of colonialism. 

Countries with money, technology and resources get richer by using the resources of poorer smaller countries at a lower level of development. They do so by pushing many agendas (including aid) and taking advantage of the lesser level of institutional maturity in countries that are struggling to manage themselves, as they are only 40 to 50 years old and had to “learn” from scratch a system of laws and a concept of nationhood entirely foreign to their former reality.

 Tuna users in the big background boats... tuna owners in the canoe... this is just wrong.

Tuna users in the big background boats... tuna owners in the canoe... this is just wrong.

Tuna gave me a new and good life when I came to the Pacific, escaping far from my origins and struggles. Yet it gave me a life in a place whose people draws many similarities with the people I grow up in the backwaters of northern Argentina . Tuna gave me friends and an extended family in places that barely figure in maps, yet there is more “humanity” than in countries whose “empires” cover the earth.

I can only say “thank you” to tuna, and believe me that if there were any way in which I could avoid killing them, I would be first on the line. For now, the best I can aspire is that their deaths are maintained at the minimum necessary, under the terms of the law and entirely accounted for. 

I owe to myself... perhaps compensating for the unnecessary deaths I could not stop.