Fishing nations, led by Libya, ruthlessly voted down proposals to ban international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna at the meeting of 115 parties to the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species this afternoon.
Delegates from Monaco, the EU and the United States had hoped to keep the proposals being discussed into next week in the hope that compromises could be found. In the event, the debate was short and not at all sweet.
Monaco’s proposal for an unqualified trade ban was rejected by 68 votes to 20, with 30 abstentions.
Before that, the EU’s highly qualified version of the same proposal was crushed by 72 votes to 43.
The debate began with Monaco’s ambassador, Patrick Van Klaveren, speaking out in favour the proposal to place the Atlantic bluefin on Cites Appendix 1, on the grounds that the tuna had declined to less than 15 per cent of its original stock and UN scientists from two official bodies accepted that the criteria for it to be listed on Appendix 1 had been met.
This was followed by a lacklustre presentation, by the Spanish presidency, in favour of the conditions the EU wanted to place on the proposal.
Then, instead of the torrent of support conservationists had hoped for there was a cascade of fishing nations, starting with Canada, speaking out against the proposed ban and in favour of leaving the management of the bluefin with the Atlantic tuna commission, ICCAT, which until recently has failed to set scientifically based quotas or to crack down on illegal fishing.
Speeches in favour of ICCAT continuing to manage the species, which can fetch up to $100,000 for a single specimen on the Japanese market, rolled on – Indonesia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Chile, Japan, Grenada, Korea, Senegal, Morocco.
Tunisia talked of social problems that would be caused if there was a ban, Morocco spoke of 2000 families in an area of no other employment who would have no income. Morocco said the bluefin was a flagship species it was in the interests of all to preserve, but said it was premature to regulate it under Cites.
Only Kenya, Norway and the United States spoke up in favour of a ban, despite advice from both the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and ICCAT’s own scientific committee that the bluefin deserved a respite from international trade.
By the time the eccentric Libyan delegate got the floor, it was clear where the majority lay. All it took was for Libya to propose a vote on Monaco’s proposal, and the chairman of the meeting, John Donaldson, had to put the proposal to close the debate to the meeting.
It was quite clear from there what would happen.
Once the vote to hold a vote had been passed, the votes on the EU’s and Monaco’s vote were both lost.
Patrick Van Klaveren, for Monaco, said magnanimously: “It is not a defeat it is the manifestation of confidence put in ICCAT to solve the problem.”
He threatened to come back in 2013 with another proposal to list the bluefin under Appendix 1 if ICCAT failed to take up the challenge to manage the bluefin for recovery.
At the press conference he shook hands with the leader of the Japanese delegation, Mitsunori Miyahara, who had taken part in the defeat of an attempt to place the bluefin on Cites in 1992.
Mr Miyahara, chief counsellor to the Japanese Fisheries Agency, said: “We agree that the bluefin is not in good shape. We have to take any measure for recovery. We have to work harder from now on.”
He said that at last November’s meeting of ICCAT, “finally the system started to work.”
“We are going to wipe out illegal fish from our markets.”
Sue Lieberman of the Pew Environment Trust branded the decision “irresponsible.”
“This meeting has said let’s take science and throw it out the door. There was clearly pressure from fishing industry. This fish is too valuable for its own good.
“Statements made about ICCAT blatantly were false. It’s time to hold ICCAT’s feet to the fire. We will be there every step of the way.”