Charles Clover, From Doha

By Charles Clover.

Greetings from Doha, Qatar, where some 120 countries, so far, are meeting to discuss the protection of the world’s endangered species. This is the beginning of discussions which will decide the fate of 42 proposals over the next two weeks to restrict trade in species ranging from the polar bear to Mexican plants used in lipstick and, via the ever controversial big cats and ivory, to this year’s most controversial species, those caught in commercial fisheries, including several species of shark and the Atlantic bluefin tuna.

As expected, the bluefin is causing the most excitement, particularly in Japan, where some 80 per cent of the journalists booked to be here are from. Japan has a delegation of more than 50.

They have been busy. They have been placing stories saying that the attempt to ban international trade in the bluefin is an attack on the Japanese custom of eating fish. Well, it isn’t, it about the failure of soft management for a species that goes for a lot of hard currency.

They have been placing stories to worry the West Africans, saying that the Spanish and French purse seine fleets which fish in the Mediterranean will come to their waters if trade is banned, ignoring the fact that these are not long-distance, ocean-going vessels and it is up to the West Africans who they allow to fish in their waters, anyway.

It looks as if Japan is panicking.

There have been indications that the secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species is increasingly getting fed up with the allegations from fishing countries that CITES is no place to regulate commercial fish species. (CITES already regulates trade in 24,000 plant species and 4,000 animals and has done since 1975.)

Willem Wijnstekers, its secretary general, told the opening plenary that he found comments that CITES should not get involved in regulating bluefin “really worrying” and he totally disagreed with that comment.

The Secretariat is increasingly calling the tune. It has commissioned a review of whether the EU’s complicated and Machiavellian proposal endorsing an Appendix 1 listing of bluefin – but placing lots of conditions on it – is legal.

That is expected in the next couple of days. Meanwhile, we can expect Japan to become shriller still in defence of the disgracefully-managed trade in its favourite sushi.

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