By Marlowe Hood (AFP) – Mar 25, 2010
DOHA — Commerce beat out conservation at a UN wildlife trade forum on Thursday, with Japan, China and pro-fisheries interests scoring a clean sweep in defeating proposals to protect high-value marine species.
At its final session in Doha, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) reversed the only decision it had taken in 13 days to list an endangered ocean animal of commercial value, the porbeagle shark.
Lobbied aggressively by Tokyo, the 175-nation CITES last week massively rejected a so-called Appendix I ban on cross-border commerce in Atlantic bluefin tuna, a sushi mainstay.
Industrial-scale fishing has depleted populations of the gleaming, fatty fish by 80 to 90 percent in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic, the regions covered by the failed bid.
Two other sharks fished to satisfy a burgeoning demand for fins -- a prestige food in Chinese communities worldwide -- were barred from Appendix II, which requires export monitoring and proof that fishing is sustainable.
The slow-maturing scalloped hammerhead and the oceanic whitetip, harvested by the millions every year, are listed as globally "endangered" and "vulnerable" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Japan also led opposition to CITES oversight of precious red and pink corals, mined from deep seas in the Mediterranean and the Pacific Ocean to make jewellery, mainly in Italy.
All told, seven such proposals -- all supported by the United States -- were rebuffed.
US and European delegates expressed deep disappointment in the conference, which also took trade-related decisions on African elephants, polar bears, tigers and several reptiles and smaller fauna teetering on the edge of extinction.
"I am disappointed that our proposals were not adopted," said Julius Langendorf for the European Commission.
"It is a significant setback for species," said Jane Lyder, head of the US delegation. "At least it brought a shining light on the status of marine species."
Japan's top negotiator Masanori Miyahara said he was satisfied with the outcome, but added that he "felt a very big responsibility for the future" of high-value marine fauna.
At the same time, he was sharply critical of the way CITES functions, suggesting that the UN body discouraged collective action.
"This organisation is only talking about winning and losing," he said, referring to the system of up-or-down votes requiring a two-thirds majority to pass.
"It is too much. We must work hard together to reach some consensus action," he told journalists.
The job of keeping tuna from tipping beyond the threshold of viability remains with the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), whose representative said the body was ready to "assume its responsibilities."
Critics point out that the body has for decades been unable or unwilling to respect its own quotas.
Japan acknowledges that tuna and other marine species are in trouble, but argued that CITES -- the only global body with the power to regulate wildlife trade -- was not the solution.
CITES: tuna, sharks still on the hook, ban on tuskers holds
CITES Secretary General Willem Wijnstekers disagreed.
"Japan thinks that CITES should keep its hands off of commercial species. I think that is wrong," Wijnstekers said, pointing out that the reach of regional fisheries such as ICCAT stops at national borders.
"If species cross borders both legally and illegally -- and unsustainably -- then CITES can have important added value, and should be used for commercial species as well."
Environmental groups slammed the decisions, warning that the consequences could be severe, perhaps irreversible.
"This is a very sad day for conservation," said Sue Lieberman, policy director for the Washington-based Pew Environment Group.
"Japan and China pushed countries to vote against conservation. We put the endangerment of these species at their feet," she said.
Many campaigners questioned the ability of CITES to carry out its mandate.
"It appears that money can buy you anything -- just ask Japan," said David Allison of Oceana, a marine conservation group based in the United States.
"The very foundation of CITES is threatened with collapse."
Lieberman said: "CITES has always been a treaty that restricts trade for conservation. Now it restricts conservation for the sake of trade."
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