Today, at a United Nations conference in Qatar, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) took a big step toward making sure that Atlantic bluefin tuna will no longer be classified as endangered.
Instead, the species soon might be classified as extinct.
Under intense lobbying pressure from Japan, which imports the vast majority of bluefins harvested worldwide, CITES member nations voted down a proposal to list the species under Appendix I of its commercial regulations, which would have banned international trade in the fish, with 20 countries for, 68 against, and 30 abstentions.
“This deeply disappointing and irresponsible vote signals a bleak future for this iconic fish,” said Susan Lieberman, director of international policy for the Pew Environment Group, in a statement following the decision. “This meeting presented a golden opportunity for governments to take a stand against overfishing, and too many governments failed to do so.”
Lieberman added, “The Atlantic blue fin tuna will not receive the protections of a suspension in international trade that it so desperately needs. 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.”
The vote could be reconsidered at the final plenary session of the Convention on Thursday, March 25. But I wouldn’t bet on that. Instead, responsibility for managing the bluefin tuna will fall back to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, the very outfit whose lack of judgment got the majestic fish into the trouble it is in today.
Barry Estabrook is a former contributing editor at Gourmet magazine. His work on a dairy farm and fishing boat taught him that writing about food was easier than producing it.