Species slugout at CITES: Sharks and tuna not protected

Apparently it's been a wild 13 days in Doha, Qatar, where officials from around the world have been debating whether to take extra measure to protect some of the planet's species and, if so, what to do.

Polar bears, sharks, Atlantic bluefin tuna and corals did not get further protections at the Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species -- also known as CITES -- which ended yesterday. Elephants and tigers fared better. 

The Environment News Service has a good summary of what happened, and you can read it here.

The U.S. had pushed hard for protection for the tuna, and environmentalists were dismayed that a species they say is headed fast for extinction is being overfished so thoroughly for the sushi and sashimi trade.  Indeed, Oceana, said to be the world’s largest international ocean conservation organization, declared the outcome of the convention a “tragedy of the oceans.”

“It appears that money can buy you anything, just ask Japan,” said David Allison, senior campaign director at Oceana, in a press release. “Under the crushing weight of the vast sums of money gained by unmanaged trade and exploitation of endangered marine species by Japan, China, other major trading countries and the fishing industry, the very foundation of CITES is threatened with collapse.”

One group that applauded the tuna nonaction was the Recreational Fishing Alliance. "Most of the arguments from this side of the Atlantic were about how a commercial ban would not have an impact on the sportfishing industry or the quota, which was simply not accurate," said Jim Donofrio, RFA's executive director,in a press release.

"Yes, we have a problem with the international community's refusal to adhere to the committee's past recommendations on quota, and the gross international overharvest during the past 10 years has contributed to the decline of Atlantic bluefin tuna," Donofrio said.  At the same time, he added, U.S. fishermen have complied with its country specific quota "to the disadvantage of our own sportfishermen."   

In this morning's Washington Post, Juliet Eilperin reports that the night before the crucial tuna vote, the Japanese ambassador hosted a reception at which he served, yes, bluefin sushi and sashimi.  To be sure, as Eilperin notes, "The unique attributes of marine life -- that these species cross national boundaries and provide sustenance and profits for countries large and small -- make them harder to regulate than land species. And despite a concerted push by activists and the Obama administration, environmentalists were not able to overcome the stiff opposition of delegates who see fishing restrictions as a threat to their nations' socioeconomic fabric."

Also, fish, living under water as they do, are difficult to count. I've been to many a fisheries meeting where the commercial fishermen and conservationists square off angrily, each of them accusing the other of weighting their arguments more with politics than with science.

The polar bear got no reprieve from CITES, either, which refused to end international trophy hunting and commercial trade in polar bear parts, including their pelts, paws and teeth. "This is a real setback,” said Andrew Wetzler, Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Wildlife Conservation Project. “It keeps some the most important populations of polar bears squarely in the crosshairs. We will continue work to find a new way to protect polar bears from this unsustainable hunt.”

Tigers retained the protection they got at the previous CITES  meeting; countries cannot breed for the trade of their parts.  Also, a request by Tanzania and Zambia to sell older stockpiles of ivory and to down-list elephants was rejected. 


“This is a rare and important victory for elephants,” said Jason Bell-Leask of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “We are hopeful that this result indicates that Parties understand that what elephants in Africa need is time. Time to effectively monitor the effect that the one-off ivory sales have had; time to put in place more effective measures to control poaching; and time for African nations to work collaboratively together to find solutions to protect elephants into the future.”


Meanwhile, the Humane Society International was pleased with new protection from the exotic pet trade awarded to four species of critically endangered spiny-tailed iguanas from Honduras and Guatemala, five species of Central American tree frogs, a critically endangered salamander from Iran known as the Kaiser’s newt, and a rare rhinoceros beetle from Bolivia.

The next CITES meeting will be in Thailand in 2013.