DOHA — A bid to ban catches of bluefin tuna in two major fisheries ran into problems on Tuesday as European Union (EU) countries squabbled over the proposal while China was reported to be opposed to it.
Halting cross-border trade in bluefin caught in the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean is headlining the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), running in Doha until March 25.
Japan, which consumes three-quarters of the global catch of this dwindling species, is campaigning fiercely against the proposal.
But signs of cracks emerged on Tuesday within the 27-nation European Union (EU) which, with the United States, is the motion’s biggest backer.
The EU countries finalised the position they will adopt on Thursday, when the issue comes up for discussion at CITES.
But the result came only after “tough … difficult and even tense” talks, said French environment ambassador Laurent Stefanini.
“Malta and Portugal wanted to reopen discussions on what had been agreed as the European stance,” said Stefanini. “The outcome (of the CITES talks) is probably going to make some member states unhappy.”
At a meeting in Brussels last week, EU nations overruled opposition from Malta to say they accepted evidence stocks of tuna in the two fisheries had crashed over the past 30 years, bringing the species to the verge of extinction.
The idea is to include fish from the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic under CITES’ Appendix 1, although catches in the Pacific and elsewhere will still be allowed.
The EU has also asked for implementation to be postponed until a November meeting of International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the inter-governmental fishery group that manages tuna stocks in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas.
In Tokyo, meanwhile, Japanese Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu said Japan now had China’s support.
“China has not announced its stance officially, but is actively lobbying other countries to oppose” the ban, Akamatsu told reporters. “There also are countries which are neutral or wavering.”
CITES has 175 nations, around 150 of which are attending the conference in the Qatari capital.
Under its rulebook, a two-thirds majority of those voting is needed to approve a proposal, although Japan has already said it will ignore any ban.
Tokyo argues that bluefin is not facing extinction, although it acknowledges that the current size of catch is probably unsustainable. The solution, it insists, is stricter management of fisheries.
Bluefin is used especially in sushi and sashimi and can fetch more than 100,000 dollars per fish on the Tokyo market.
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