By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website
A proposal to ban the export of Atlantic bluefin tuna, which is a sushi mainstay in Japan, has been rejected by a UN wildlife meeting.
Thursday’s decision occurred after Japan, Canada and many poor nations opposed the measure on the grounds it would devastate fishing economies.
Monaco tabled the plan at the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Stocks have fallen by about 85% since the industrial fishing era began.
Monaco argued that the organisation responsible for managing the bluefin fishery – the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (Iccat) – had not implemented measures strict enough to ensure the species’ survival.
“ The market for this fish is just too lucrative… for enough governments to support a truly sustainable future for the fish,” Dr Sue Lieberman Pew Environment Group.
Scientists and campaigners working with conservation organisations were disappointed with the outcome.
“We think it is quite a blow, because Iccat has not been able to demonstrate that it is able to implement procedures that will lead to [the bluefin's] recovery,” said Glenn Sant, leader of the global marine programme with Traffic, the international wildlife trade monitoring network.
“There was really no question that it met the [scientific] criteria for listing,” he told BBC News from the conference in Doha, Qatar.
“Listing” is the technical term for imposing restriction on international trade through CITES.
Bluefin tuna was slated for listing on Appendix One – a complete ban.
CITES votes can be reviewed on the meeting’s final day, but the margin of defeat suggests this one will not be, said Mr Sant.
The first vote – on an EU amendment that weakened the original Monaco proposal but still endorsed the ban – was defeated by 72 votes to 43.
# Threatened organisms listed on three appendices depending on level of risk
# Appendix 1 – all international trade banned
# Appendix 2 – international trade monitored and regulated
# Appendix 3 – trade bans by individual governments, others asked to assist
# “Uplisting” – moving organism to a more protective appendix; “downlisting” – the reverse
# Conferences of the Parties (COPs) held every three years
# CITES administered by UN Environment Programme (Unep)
The vote on the original motion then went down by 68 votes to 20.
EU nations had to abstain on the second vote as delegates did not have the authority from their governments to vote for it.
The EU has to vote as a bloc in these negotiations, and nations with active tuna fleets such as France, Italy and Spain had been unwilling to support an outright, immediate ban
Japan – the principal bluefin-consuming nation – had made its opposition to the proposal clear before the CITES meeting started. It argues that commercial fisheries should be managed through bodies such as Iccat.
Sue Lieberman, director of international policy with the Pew Environment Group, suggested lobbying from the fishing industry was ultimately responsible for the defeat.
“This meeting presented a golden opportunity for governments to take a stand against overfishing, and too many governments failed to do so,” she said.
“The market for this fish is just too lucrative, and the pressure from fishing interests too great, for enough governments to support a truly sustainable future for the fish.”