by Peter Gaechter
UBS has announced that it will close a huge, billion-dollar real estate fund, causing consternation and distress among its many investors, many of them smaller, private investors, according to the usually well-informed Swiss Sunday newspaper, Sonntagszeitung 13 December. That a real estate fund is in trouble should not come as a surprise. Investors who lose money on their punts know what they are getting into, even if it is, or was, a UBS fund.
Mortgage as bonus
In other news that is sure to cause more consternation and distress, employees of the bank’s US wealth management division will be entitled to interest-free loans worth up to 65 percent of the income they bring in to the bank. This very generous step was forced onto the bank in an effort to keep its 7,200 wealth management employees in the USA from deserting. If the employee stays with the bank long enough, he or she won’t have to pay back the loan. That is in addition to the regular bonus program. Of course, UBS didn’t get any government bailout money in the US, and the Swiss government, which did bail out UBS in Switzerland, can’t really say anything about bonus policy in a part of the bank not under its regulatory supervision. Smart.
Ospel won’t go on trial
And there is good news for the bank’s former CEO, Marcel Ospel, who won’t have to go through the tedious experience of a trial for alleged tax fraud, falsification of documents, and the wilfully unsound management of his business. The Zurich public prosecutor’s office has decided not to press charges against him, having learned from the Swissair case how difficult it is to prove such things. Ospel was of course also intimately involved in the demise of Swissair, and the Zurich public prosecutor well knows how the Swiss business elite closes ranks against outsiders.
On the plus side, at least the bank’s shareholders, or the country’s citizens, will not have to pay for his legal costs.
But the bank’s most egregious misdemeanour in the past few years has been its ongoing assault on the English language with its long-running “You and Us” campaign. Every child knows that You and Us = Us. And we all know that people use Us as the object of a sentence. You and We, which I would let by if I were correcting an English test, is simply We. You and Us. We. Not much of an advertising campaign.
You be Us. I think not.
By Peter Gaechter
The Pew Environment Group in Washington DC added its voice Thursday, 5 November to calls for a ban on fishing of bluefin tuna, stocks of which have been depleted by 85 percent since industrial fishing began in the 1960s, and which are now near collapse. Pew follows the lead of two environmental groups, which joined forces 28 October to urge a ban on bluefin fishing and trade.
WWF International, based in Gland, near Geneva, joined Greenpeace to call for a ban on the fishing of the Eastern bluefin tuna, because years of overfishing and misguided policies by fishing nations, especially in Europe, have brought the stocks close to collapse. The two advocacy groups support the scientific findings of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), whose scientists have said that continued fishing will effectively wipe out existing stocks. The scientists recommend that the bluefin tuna be put on the CITES Appendix 1 list.
The Principality of Monaco submitted a proposal 14 October that the bluefish tuna be added to Appendix 1 of the CITES list of species threatened with extinction and banned from international trade. The European Union endorsed the recommendation and its fisheries commissioner, Joe Borg, has called on ICCAT to act. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora next meets in Doha 13-25 March 2010.
ICCAT meets in Recife 9-15 November
ICCAT, headquartered in Spain, meets in Recife, Brazil 9-15 November to consider its scientists’ findings. If the past is any guide, the outlook for the bluefin tuna is bleak. ICCAT has consistently ignored the warnings of its own scientists by setting quotas above what they have recommended. In 2007, the catch was estimated to have been 61,000 tonnes, twice the legal quota thanks to illegal fishing, reports the Economist.
In part the problem lies with the lack of any serious enforcement mechanisms to control unchecked fishing. The fish are caught by huge fish factories, sometimes with spotter planes, although these are officially banned, reports the Telegraph.
Another fault in the system to save the fish is that at ICCAT, member states are represented by fisheries ministers, who mostly represent their countries fishing industry. In addition, many European countries actively subsidize fishing fleets, beyond what is economically rational, which gives the fishermen the incentive to fish far and wide. Fishermen, like farmers, have powerful lobbies and plenty of clout. No country likes to have its harbours blockaded by its own angry fishermen.
ICCAT meant to defend stocks of bluefin tuna
In 1969, ICCAT was formed “to co-operate in maintaining the populations of these fishes at levels which will permit the maximum sustainable catch for food and other purposes…”. Increased industrial fishing in the 1960s lead to the collapse of bluefin tuna populations off the coasts of Brazil and in the North Sea. ICCAT claims to rely on the recommendations of its scientific advisors to set quotas for its member countries in order to maintain sustainable fishing of the bluefin tuna.
Tuna fish farms in the Mediterranean
In the 1990s European countries hit on an idea that allows them to get around their fishing quotas. Starting in Spain, in 1996 “tuna farms” started springing up. Fishermen catch the fish, and rather than landing them and processing them, they tow them to the farms where the fish are fattened, before they are killed and sold, according to WWF.
The problem with the tuna farms is two-fold. They are not really farms because they are not sustainable. The fish are caught using purse seins, the only type of net that allows fish to be taken alive. But they are caught before they are sexually mature, so a fish taken is a fish gone. And the European Union actually subsidizes this behaviour in the mistaken belief that it is “aquaculture”.
There are now over 40 of these farms around the Mediterranean, from Spain and Libya through Italy, Croatia, Malta and Turkey. In 1995, an estimated 90 percent of the legal catch in the Atlantic went to supply the farms.
If tuna weren’t so tasty…
But the underlying problem of bluefin tuna is the value that we fish-eaters put on them. Earlier this year, more than $170,000 was paid for a single bluefin tuna in Japan, the world’s most ardent consumer of the fish for its sushi and sashimi bars.
The bluefin tuna is one of the fastest fish alive. When hunting prey, it can reach 70km/hour. It is warm-blooded, in that it maintains its body’s internal temperature stable, and it can, if we would let it, weigh 250kg and reach 4 metres in length. And it is obviously delicious to eat.
The fish found in cans at the supermarket are not bluefin tuna, but a related species, called the skipjack tuna. It is commercially less valuable because there are (still) substantial numbers in the sea.
Election night coverage back in the UK in 1997 was so delightfully British. Whatever side of the political fence you were on, anyone who stayed up late to watch the results couldn’t have failed to be amused. Amongst the other candidates a seven foot transvestite candidate, “Miss Money Penny’s Glamorous One Party”, towered over the others as the returning officer announced the results. She/he wasn’t the only quirky candidate that night, there were others represented up and down the country.
So when I was invited by an American to go to a U.S election watching party in Geneva on Tuesday night, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would there be anything equally surreal, would it be momentous, would it be serious, who would be there?