The triennial meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is still underway in Doha, Qatar, this week, but so far news coming out of the conference is a mixed bag. Some trees have been protected, tigers gained a few friends, and a rare salamander got some attention, but all hopes to save the critically endangered bluefin tuna were sunk in a secret ballot that put commerce ahead of science and conservation.
As I’ve written here before, populations of Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) have dropped 97 percent since 1960, but the tasty fish remains in high demand in Japan, where sushi bars are willing to pay up to $100,000 or more per fish. A possible CITES ban on bluefin tuna—supported by the U.S. and 27 European Union nations)—has been in the works for months. Japan, meanwhile, had already announced that it would not comply with such a ban if it were enacted.
Unfortunately, the ban failed, and fishing will continue. CITES’s own press release, titled “Governments not ready for trade ban on bluefin tuna,” is surprisingly candid about how this happened:
“Japan, Canada and several members States of the Arab league opposed the proposal arguing that regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) as ICCAT [the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas] were best placed to tackle the decline of bluefin tuna stocks. They added that an Appendix I listing [which would ban trade in the species] would not stop the fishing of the species. After a passionate but relatively short debate, the representative of Libya requested to close the deliberations and go for a vote. Iceland called for a secret ballot. The amendment introduced by the European Union and Monaco’s proposal were defeated (20 votes in favor, 68 against, 30 abstentions) in the middle of much confusion about the voting procedures and mixed feelings of satisfaction and frustration from participants.”
Obviously, pro-tuna groups were not happy about this series of events. “It is scandalous that governments did not even get the chance to engage in meaningful debate about the international trade ban proposal for Atlantic bluefin tuna,” said Sergi Tudela , head of fisheries for the WWF Mediterranean Programme Office, in a prepared statement.
Oceana, a conservation group devoted to the health of the oceans, called this “a clear win by short-term economic interest over the long-term health of the ocean and the rebuilding of Atlantic bluefin tuna populations.” And Greenpeace International oceans campaigner Oliver Knowles stated, “The abject failure of governments here at CITES to protect Atlantic bluefin tuna spells disaster for its future and sets the species on a pathway to extinction.”