Friday will be the 60th day since President Barack Obama informed Congress of his intention to intervene in the Libyan conflict; despite two months of bombings, Colonel Gaddafi has continued to dig in his heels, even as NATO has targeted his compound in Tripoli, and the International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for his arrest.
But while the attention of most of the world has been focused on the conflict on land, at least some are looking at the waters just offshore, and specifically the impact of the fighting on the endangered bluefin tuna.
Libya has informed the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) of its intention to allow fishing for bluefin in its waters this season, which lasts from mid-May to mid-June, despite having no agreed fishing plan for the season. That prompted Greenpeace and WWF to urge ICCAT to suspend this season's fishery, given the fact that the species is so severely overfished. Of particular concern is the fact that, because of the NATO no-fly zone, no observers from ICCAT or the European Union will be able to conduct aerial surveys to document legal or – particularly worrisome – illegal fishing vessels.
As a consequence, Sea Shepherd has announced it will be sending two vessels "with the goal of intercepting bluefin tuna poachers and freeing any illegally caught fish in attempt to save the species from nearing extinction." Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson asserted that his ships would “be armed with the regulations and in touch with NATO and the European Union Commission." He warned that "any bluefin tuna seiner or holding cage found in Libyan waters will be intercepted, the nets will be cut open, and the fish will be released. This year it is zero tolerance towards these illegal poaching operations and any fish in any net we encounter in Libyan waters will be freed and released.”
Not everyone is applauding Sea Shepherd's actions. One writer, describing the organization as "the least cool gang of self-styled pirates currently operating on the open seas" wondered whether "Sea Shepherd's energies would be better used somewhere else, for the time being at least? There are a few more pressing issues to deal with in Libya these days (war, refugees, shortages of basic supplies, stuff like that) …ouldn't it be a little more helpful (and timely) to use those fancy boats to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of Libya?"
In its defense, Sea Shepherd points to the extreme concern over the future of Atlantic bluefin and espouses the fact that it will be cooperating with the European Commission:
A tuna trawler waits in Malta. Many Italian and French fishermen work on Libyan vessels based out of the Mediterranean ports of Sete and Malta that are not authorized this season to catch Atlantic bluefin tuna in Libyan waters. Ten Libyan-flagged purse seine fishing vessels owned by French interests are sitting this season out at port in Sete. CREDIT: Corbis.