If you are a sushi lover with a preference for bluefin tuna, my advice is to eat up during the next couple years because the ocean’s most iconic fish is destined for extinction. (The World Wildlife Fund predicts all bluefin will be gone by 2012; currently we – mostly the Japanese – take 1 million of the big fish each year, out of a total population of 3.75 million, impossible numbers for the fish to adequately reproduce.)
There had been hope this week at a U.N. meeting of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) that bluefin might be added to the endangered species list, slowing its commercial viability. But today, with the EU opting out of voting (scared to put its tuna fishermen out of business, even after France had intimated it would vote for the ban) and the Japanese pressuring hard, the listing was voted down 68-20. (View a clip from our film-in-progress, “In Pursuit of the Last Bluefin.”)
David Jolly’s report in the NYT: Efforts to ban international trade in bluefin tuna and polar bears were rejected Thursday by a United Nations conference on endangered species, as delegates in Doha, Qatar refused to back the U.S.-backed measures.
A proposal by Monaco to extend the highest level of U.N. protection to the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin, a fish prized by sushi lovers for its fatty belly flesh, failed by a lopsided vote of 20-68, with 30 abstentions, Juan Carlos Vasquez, a spokesman for the U.N. organization, said.
“It wasn’t a very good day for conservation,” Mr. Vasquez said. “It shows the governments are not ready to adopt trade bans as a way to protect species.”
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora counts 175 member governments, though far fewer were represented for the votes in Doha. European Union nations, whose fleets are most responsible for the overfishing of the bluefin, abstained from voting.
The rejection was a defeat for environmentalists and a clear victory for the Japanese government, which had vowed to go all out to stop the measure. Japan, which consumes more than three-quarters of the Mediterranean bluefin catch, argued that the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, or Iccat, an intergovernmental organization, should be responsible for regulating the stock, not the United Nations.
While there is near-universal agreement that bluefin stocks are in danger, Japan’s argument resonated with other fishing nations, which were uneasy about what would have marked the first intrusion by the convention into a major commercial fishery.
But an independent review commissioned by Iccat shows that its own record on managing the fish“ is widely regarded as an international disgrace.” The agency has presided over more than two-thirds decline in the stock since 1970 — with much of that drop coming in just the last decade with the onset of huge industrial fishing operations and tuna “ranching.” And while the organization, which has no effective enforcement mechanism, has the authority to set quotas, year after year it has set the catch above the level that its own scientists say is safe to ensure the health of the species.
Susan Lieberman, director of international policy for the Pew Environment Group, said Thursday’s vote was “ an unfortunate step backwards.” She added: “This deeply disappointing and irresponsible vote signals a bleak future for this iconic fish.”
This is the second time Japan has defeated a proposal at the conference to protect the bluefin. A similar proposal by Sweden failed at 1992 UN convention in Kyoto. While the bluefin vote was held by secret ballot, Japanese officials said this week that China and South Korea also opposed the measure, and Canada openly opposed it.
In a joint statement, Janez Potocnik, the European environment commissioner and Maria Damanaki, the commissioner for maritime affairs and fisheries, said they were “disappointed” with the outcome, and called for Iccat to “take its responsibility to ensure that stocks are managed in a sustainable way.” If no action is taken, they warned, “there is a very serious danger that the bluefin tuna will no longer exist.”
Tags: Bluefin Tuna, CITES, Commisioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, David Jolly, EU, European Environment Commissioner, Extinction, ICCAT, Janez Potocnik, Japanese, Kyoto, Maria Damanaki, New York Times, Tuna Ranching, World Wildlife Fund