DOHA — Japan was accused of scare tactics at world talks on wildlife protection on Monday as it campaigned against a proposal to curb trade in bluefin tuna, the succulent sushi delicacy.
The 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meeting until March 25, is gearing up to vote on banning commerce in bluefin from the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic, a motion that requires a two-thirds majority to pass.
So far, fewer than 40 of the approximately 150 countries in Doha have declared their intention to back the move.
"It is very much up in the air. There's a lot of jockeying," said Patrick Van Klaveren of Monaco, which is leading the charge for a ban.
"Japan's lobbying is formidable. Three or four people from the Japanese delegation are constantly criss-crossing the Convention, arranging meetings," he told AFP.
On Sunday, Japanese delegates met with some African nations, said a negotiator from west Africa.
"We are used to it. They do the same thing before each meeting of the International Whaling Commission," the body that oversees global whale populations, he said.
Van Klaveren said that Tokyo was also targeting developing countries, "scaring them about what could happen to their (own tuna) stocks, along the lines of 'your turn will come'."
Monaco's proposal entails placing Atlantic- and Mediterranean-caught bluefin under Appendix I of the CITES rulebook, meaning fish caught in those sea areas could not be sold internationally.
Even though it would not affect bluefin caught in the Pacific, "the Pacific island nations and Asia are also quite sensitive" to Japan's arguments, said van Klaveren.
"Japan is threatening them," said Sue Lieberman, policy director for the Pew Environment Group in Washington.
Tokyo has vowed to fight the moratorium, saying it would ignore any such measure voted into place.
In Seoul on Thursday, the Japanese vice farm minister, Masahiko Yamada, pressed his South Korean counterpart to support Japan's position.
"The Tokyo side made sure that Seoul will continue cooperating with Japan on this issue," Yamada said in a statement.
Tunisia, with major bluefin fisheries in the Mediterranean, is also working the halls in Doha, hoping to muster support from the 22 Arab League nations against the proposal, NGOs said.
A delegate from Tunis denied this. "We have expressed our position, but have done nothing to encourage other countries to share it," Khaled Zahlah told AFP.
Van Klaveren voiced regret that the EU had not taken a stronger stand.
The 27-nation bloc favours the ban amid mounting evidence that stocks of the precious fish -- which can sell for more than 100,000 dollars apiece in Japan -- have crashed over the past 30 years.
But it has asked for implementation to be postponed until a November meeting of ICAAT, the inter-governmental fishery group that manages tuna stocks in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas.
"The EU is not very active. It is absorbed by its own internal negotiations," Van Klaveren complained.
The rotating EU presidency is currently held by Spain which, along with France and Italy, accounts for 50 percent of Mediterranean bluefin catches.
Norway, Switzerland, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Serbia also support the bluefin moratorium, he added.
Japan says that bluefin is not facing extinction, but acknowledges that recent rates of exploitation are probably not sustainable.
The solution, it insists, is stricter management of fisheries, which have consistently exceeded their own quotas.
The CITES secretariat, which makes recommendations on proposals before the Convention, declared on Saturday that bluefin tuna fisheries in the two sea zones were in crisis and met the criteria for a total ban on international trade.
The issue will be debated on Thursday, although a vote is unlikely to take place before next week, officials said.
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