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Environmentalists want the rules tightened. At iccat's next meeting in Dubrovnik, Croatia, in November, environmental groups and the U.S. will be attempting to crack down on overfishing. But Bregazzi is gloomy. "You are talking to a very pessimistic man," he says. "Bluefin tuna is on the verge of collapse, if not collapsing as we speak."
The debate over who controls the Mediterranean's resources goes beyond fishing. About 30% of the world's shipping passes through the Mediterranean. "Oil pollution from ships is a major problem," says Paul Mifsud, coordinator of the United Nations Environment Program's Mediterranean Action Plan, which is headquartered in Athens. About 100,000-150,000 tons of oil is spilled into the Mediterranean every year from accidents and operational dumping by ships, according to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council, which monitors ocean oil spills. Industrial waste, too, pollutes the waters. Egyptians have long called their port city, Alexandria, the jewel of the Mediterranean, but it has lately earned another reputation as "the outstanding champion of pollution," according to Mifsud. Factories dump waste water into the port's bays and into Lake Maryut, 1 km from the sea. Egypt's government blames the cargo traffic from the Suez Canal and oil tankers from the Persian Gulf. "We not only have to manage Egypt but the whole world's waste," says Mohammed Borhan, director general of coastal and maritime zone management for the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency.
Pollution, like overfishing, threatens fish stocks in the Med and traditional fishing communities. Hundreds of thousands of people around the Mediterranean make their living from the sea, and E.U. officials believe a crash in fish stocks would impact many towns and villages. At the same time, the E.U. is trying to save fish by coaxing fishermen into other professions. After years of political wrangling, the European Commission agreed last month on a €3.8 billion, seven-year program to help fishermen shift into other industries. E.U. funds currently help fishermen retire at 55 and pay to train them for new careers in tourism.
Whatever the economic incentives to change their ways, in many small towns there is a sense of a way of life passing away often yielding to an easier, more lucrative modern existence. In Garrucha, old men fish; their sons do not. "There are other options now," says Cervantes, the fishermen's federation president. For fishermen, perhaps. But for the tuna?
With reporting by Anthee Carassava/Athens, Jeff Israely/Rome, Amany Radwan/Cairo and Jane Walker/Madrid