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Author Archive for Charles Clover

Go, Hugh, go. Support his petition now

Sometimes the old tricks are the best tricks. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight campaign, launched in three hours of television on the UK’s Channel 4 last week, asks us to sign up to a petition to save the insane waste of fish caused by the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy. Around half of the fish that are caught in the North Sea are thrown back overboard dead every year because fishermen cannot control which fish they catch and the rules say that when a quota for one species is used up fishermen have to throw any more they catch back dead. But in other parts of the world fishermen land all they catch and the amount of fishing effort is regulated satisfactorily. Why can’t we? EU rules are uniquely bad and need to be changed. Conservationists and industry alike can happily heed that call.

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In the time I have been logged on in the past hour, the petition on Hugh’s website has just exceeded 500,000. Already this is a phenomenon. Let’s make it more of one. We, the makers of The End of the Line, sensitized the British public to the issue of overfishing, but here is Hugh harnessing that awareness and giving people something they can do to express their anger. We thought hard, when making our film, about an “ask” which everyone anywhere could do. As our film was global, and not directed at any government in particular, a petition didn’t work for us. Instead we came up with the three “asks” at the end of the film – eat sustainable seafood, tell politicians to respect the science and to support the creation of marine reserves. And we had a bit of fun by inviting people to claim their bit of the sea.

But Hugh’s films are aimed at one nation and at one system of government, the EU’s, so a petition works amazingly well. If you are as clear, forceful, engaging and angry as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and catch the public mood, you can harness votes by the hundreds of thousands or even, let’s hope, millions. Well, he’s caught it and now he needs our help. Forget, for now, the complexities of getting rid of “discards” – the insane practice of throwing away perfectly good fish: it is possible and other countries have done it. Don’t listen to the siren voices of the industry spokesmen who say it can’t be done: just accept that many experts think it can – if we make enough of a fuss. So, if you haven’t already, wherever you are, do sign Hugh’s Fish Fight petition and get everyone you know to do likewise. For fish’s sake.

By Charles Clover

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Whose Sea is it Anyway?

Well, I turn up for the annual talks about tuna quotas at the notorious International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) - aka the International Conspiracy to Catch All the Tuna - in Paris. And guess what? I’m not allowed in.

Now, I’m used to being excluded from ICCAT’s deliberations as a member of the press. Quite used to that. But at all the meetings I have been to before, you are at least allowed into the room where the delegates meet to take coffee between sessions. If you are not, how are you supposed to do your job as a member of the press, canvassing all shades of opinion? How are you supposed to find anybody if the French security people on the outer door say you aren’t allowed inside? I decided to brush past, walk in anyway and find someone to remonstrate with.

The excuse offered this time by the genial Brazilian chairman of ICCAT, Fabio Hazin, was that 100 journalists turned up on the first day, Nov 16, and the little UN commission couldn’t possibly accommodate that many people. I take it as a great triumph for our film, The End of the Line - showing in Paris at an environmental film festival today by the way - that there were so many journos trying to cover ICCAT as normally it’s just me and a mad French film crew. This time the working of ICCAT have become international news. People wait to hear what the commission is going to do about the French payback - the 2500 tons of bluefin caught illegally that theoretically should be subtracted from the French quota next year. They wait to hear whether the commission will set a science-based quota for a change and whether it will finally accept that it is its job to managed the Atlantic’s population of sharks, of which a million are estimated to be killed each year for the Asian market. So what does ICCAT do in response to this new expression of interest by the world’s citizens? It shuts out their representatives, the press, unless, as I managed to do, they can argue that they are actually from a marine organisation. Anyone would think the world’s citizens had no interest in what is, legally, their own property, the sea.

Charles Clover

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Buenos Aires greets The End of the Line

One of the things about the global overfishing crisis that you get used to is that you can travel to the other side of the world and hear a story that you might well have been told about one of the fish you have at home. That’s what when I went to Buenos Aires last week for the premiere in Argentina of The End of the Line. The screening, organized by Marviva and Greenpeace, had a great turnout – 200 is good when there is a local derby football match going on in town. There were some good questions in the Q&A session at the end, in which I had expert backup from Greenpeace and the local affiliate of WWF.

When the questions got on to Argentine fisheries, about which I know very little, I was grateful to Guillermo Cañete, coordinator of the marine programme of the non- governmental Argentine Wildlife Foundation (the WWF affiliate) and genuinely fascinated by what he had to say. He told the audience that the Argentine hake fisheries of the southern Atlantic Ocean, still among the world leaders in the white fish market, are on the verge of collapse due in part to the indifference of the Argentine people, who are apparently more interested in eating beef and export most of their hake.

The decline of Merluccius hubbsi, known in Spanish here as “merluza,” threatens food security and biodiversity, though the Argentine hake is still the fourth largest in the world for white fish and first in the southern hemisphere. However, this wealth is sharply deteriorating, according to the National Institute of Fishing Research and Development (INIDEP). For every 5 adult hake there were in 1986, there is now just one. The reason is that younger fish have always been caught along with the adult hake. Even faced with the decline in fish stocks, the fishing companies have refused to use devices that would let smaller fish escape the nets.

Today, more than 60 percent of the hake caught are juveniles. “If nothing is done, the hake will collapse shortly,” Mr Cañete warned. If that happens, the first people to disappear will be fishermen. The Wildlife Foundation issued a call this year for Argentines to avoid buying hake filets less than 25 centimetres long, in order to discourage the capture of small fish.

Strange how familiar it all sounds to ears tuned to the northern hemisphere and to the annual discussions about cod and European hake. As we prepare for the launch of Fish2fork and the DVD of The End of the Line in Madrid next week (Nov 30) it is worth reflecting on the lessons from another country where hake is the favourite.

Charles Clover

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World’s Largest Marine Reserve Comes Into Being

Commercial fishing around the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean ends today making it the largest “no-take” marine reserve in the world. The remaining fishing licenses will expire at midnight, following the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) decision to create the reserve in April.

The coalition government decided to proceed with the reserve, despite its austerity budget, after £3.5 million in private funding was offered by the Bertarelli Foundation, in a deal organized by the British-based Blue Marine Foundation, a charity spawned by the documentary film, The End of the Line.

The creation of the new sanctuary around the British Indian Ocean Territory, where commercial fishing will be banned, serves to highlight the slowness with which the international community has moved towards reaching a goal set almost a decade ago to protect marine life. In 2002, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the World Summit on Sustainable Development made a commitment to protect 10 per cent of the world’s oceans by 2012.

With only 15 months to go, it is estimated that just 1.17 per cent of the world’s oceans are under some form of protection, and a mere 0.08 per cent classified as “no-take” zones. Early on Saturday morning, government representatives at a UN conference on biodiversity held in Nagoya, Japan, put the 2012 deadline back to 2020.

Marine experts warned that it is scandalous that the original deadline will not be met, and said the 10 per cent target falls far short of what is needed. A third of ocean waters need protection to give marine species a fighting chance of survival, they said.
The shortfall between target and achievement was described as “massive” by Dr Heather Koldewey, manager of the Zoological Society of London’s international marine and freshwater conservation programme.

The failure to get anywhere near the original goal would result in “a massive loss of marine resources and, with that, an associated loss of people’s livelihoods”, she warned. “In terms of maintaining marine environments in some kind of operational form, science believes that actual protection should be in the region of 30 to 40 per cent,” she added.
Professor Charles Sheppard, from the University of Warwick also says more no-take marine reserves are vital to maintain sufficient life in our oceans.

He said: “Governments need to stand up to the fishing industry lobby before it is too late. We cannot afford to have any more delay by governments in honouring their commitments to protect areas of ocean. “Alistair Gammell, director of the Pew Environment Group’s Chagos campaign, said: “It is scandalous that governments are nowhere near the targets agreed to in 2002. The consequence of that failure is that fish and other species are declining in nearly every place you look.”

The Chagos reserve covers an area of 544,000 square kilometres - twice the size of Britain. Its waters are home to the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, as well as green sea turtles, dolphins and one of the world’s largest coral reefs - a habitat for more than 1,200 species of coral and fish.

It also has nearly 100 seamounts and underwater features thought to harbour undiscovered forms of life.
Marine life in the waters of the Chagos Archipelago has been hit hard by overfishing. The Zoological Society of London estimates that, over the past five years, around 60,000 sharks, an equivalent number of rays and many other species have been caught there as “by-catch” when fishing for tuna.

In an attempt to prevent the reserve becoming little more than a park on paper, a fisheries patrol vessel, paid for by private donation, will police the waters to ensure the fishing ban is not breached. In a statement last night a Foreign Office spokesman said: “The Government believes that a Marine Protected Area (MPA) is the right way ahead for furthering the environmental protection of the British Indian Ocean Territory. “As the world’s largest MPA, the UK’s example is encouraging others to do the same in other important and vulnerable areas.”

By Charles Clover

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Lawyers call for three year ban on bluefin tuna catches

By Lewis Smith and Charles Clover of Fish2fork

Explosive advice to fisheries ministers has been issued telling them they have a legal obligation to ban bluefin tuna fishing in the Mediterranean and Atlantic for at least three years.

European Union fisheries ministers meeting in Brussels were given a 20-page briefing by lawyers from the environmental law organisation ClientEarth outlining why they are obliged to act. Bluefin tuna stocks have declined rapidly in recent years to the point they are regarded as “dangerously depleted” and campaigners have been pressing for the fish to be better protected.

ClientEarth has now carried out a detailed analysis of European rules and a variety of agreements the EU has signed up to and has concluded that bluefin stocks are in such a parlous state an automatic fishing ban should be triggered from 2011 to 2013. The organisation also told ministers that France should specifically be barred from receiving any bluefin tuna catch quota in 2011 “to penalize France’s overfishing in 2007”. Italy should also be penalized for overfishing, though not as severely as its neighbour, the legal group said.

It’s lawyers wants ministers to press for a moratorium when the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) meets next month to discuss bluefin fishing.
Nevertheless, sources close to the talks said ministers were likely to ignore the advice and were considering recommending a total catch quota of 6,000 to 13,500 tonnes. The quota this year was 13,500 tonnes despite scientists pressing for a maximum of 8,000 tonnes.

A ban on bluefin catches would be highly contentious and would cause fury among the nations that still hunt the fish. French fishermen are likely to be further incensed at being singled out for punative action for overfishing. Among the reasons cited by the environmental law organisation for demanding a ban on bluefin tuna fishing in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic are the terms of the ICCAT Convention.

The EU, rather than individual member nations, is a contracting party to ICCAT and one of the rules is that signatories must “cooperate in maintaining the populations of these fishes at levels which will permit the maximum sustainable catch for food and other purposes”.

ClientEarth advised that the European Commission, representing the EU, is legally bound to uphold the treaty which required the “precautionary approach” towards stocks to be taken. Bluefin tuna numbers are so low, the lawyers said, that this entails a ban on catching them. James Thornton, chief executive of ClientEarth, says: “The member states with a financial interest in the bluefin tuna fishery must not be allowed to stand in the way of the EU fulfilling its legal obligations in ICCAT negotiations.

“Bluefin tuna stocks in the Mediterranean are perilously low and unless there is an effective prohibition on fishing this magnificent species for at least the next three years it could take decades for the stock to recover. “Bluefin tuna has been recklessly overfished for many years. Member states whose fleets have overfished in the past must be penalised for their failure to enforce the rules. It is essential that no countries are allowed to go fishing for bluefin tuna in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean for the next few years to allow stocks to return to sustainable levels.”

Scientists at ICCAT concluded last year that the breeding stock of the species is so reduced that it is less than 15 per cent of levels before industrial scale fishing began.

ClientEarth stated in its ministerial briefing: “EU law therefore imposes a clear obligation on the EU to apply the precautionary approach and not to postpone taking action on bluefin tuna due to a lack of available data.”

Among the agreements the organisation cites as contributing to the conclusion bluefin fishing should be halted is the Marine Strategy Framework Directive which requires EU member states to ensure commercial fish stocks are maintained “within safe biological limits” and are kept healthy.

It added in its briefing: “As a result of the obligations under the Barcelona Convention and the SPA Protocol [Specially Protected Areas and Biological Diversity in the Mediterranean Protocol], the EU and its Member States are under a clear obligation to cooperate with ICCAT to take action to protect bluefin tuna.

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Sign the 2012 petition for more fish in the sea

We are often asked what people can do to tackle overfishing and create more protected areas for the oceans’ wildlife. Well, the 70 environmental organisations that make up the Oceans 2012 campaign www.ocean2012.eu/petition have decided to make next week, starting June 6, European Fish Week and to petition the Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, to make environmental sustainability a prerequisite for a reformed Common Fisheries Policy when it comes into force in 2012.
The link to the petition is here www.ocean2012.eu/petition. Make your voice heard!

Charles Clover

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TEOTL goes to Fishing 2010

To the Glasgow fishing exhibition, Trawler Central. A huge hall full of big diesels and nets. I felt I owed the fishermen a visit as I have just occasionally had a pop at the Scottish fishing industry. The Fishing 2010 press release said I was brave to go. We screened a 52-minute version of The End of the Line in a theatre that was part of the fishing exhibition. On the panel: Bertie Armstrong from the Scottish Fishermens’ Federation, Philip MacMullen from Seafish, Louize Hill from WWF and Callum Roberts from York University.

Let’s deal with the routine stuff first: Scottish fishermen have turned the corner and are doing their best to bring about the recovery of the cod. Absolutely, said I, credit where it is due. There is no evidence that marine reserves work for migratory species. Nonsense, said Callum and I, the only place in the world they say that is Aberdeen and they’ve no evidence for it. Why not set one up and do a proper experiment? Why don’t fishermen get any credit for doing good things when they do? Well, how often am I supposed to praise the Scotttish conservation credits scheme? I was the first journalist to praise Scottish fishermen for going to Brussels and arguing that they should be given more quota if they fished more selectively. I said a couple of years ago that the British fishing industry seemed to have turned the corner after the disgraceful situation of a decade or more ago with up to 50 per cent of the cod taken from the North Sea illegally. How many times do you want me to say it?

Two things that were said stood out for me that day. One was said by a West Coast trawlerman and scallop dredger. “You’re the one who’s obsequious to the public,” he said. I confess I got very annoyed by that. After all, hadn’t I spent years writing about what I considered to be the scandal of overfishing long before anyone else seemed to know about it or a publisher would publish it? Hadn’t I spent two years with a number of others turning a not-for-profit film that turned that book into a film? I’m not sure which bit was being obsequious to the public. As far as I was concerned, I was attempting to report the truth and the public were decent enough to take up the message of the film because they believed our case that overfishing was a much more serious problem than we recognised before.

Several Scottish fishermen seemed to hear an RP accent and assume one has made a fortune out of the film when most of us had actually made sacrifices to tell the truth. The other thing that surprised me was when Louize Hill of WWF said that Scotland was “not that bad,” or words to that effect, when it came to fisheries. This may have been a slip of the tongue. What she probably meant was that the cod in the North Sea may have turned the corner. But I would not like WWF to think that Scotland did not have fisheries disasters as bad as any in the world. You have only to look at the Firth of Clyde, just a few miles downriver from Glasgow. The cod, haddock and whiting are now gone, collapsed to a state where the US government would have long ago closed the fishery to any kind of mobile gear, ie trawls.

Langoustines are now the staple for both the creel and trawl fisheries. Yet Marine Science Scotland reported this year that even the langoustine is being exploited unsustainably in the Clyde – and in many other parts of Scotland. The discard rate of whitefish is colossal. When you have fished out all the fish and then the shellfish, what will you have left but jellyfish and plankton? The Scottish Government continues to be in denial about the disaster that is Scotland’s West Coast.

If it were to recognise what its own scientists are saying it might have to do something about fishing effort, which would play poorly with its core constituency. It would be disconcerting to think that any environmental groups nourished any of the same delusions.

Charles Clover

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Italy steps in to protect the bluefin

Italy has banned its high-technology fishing fleet from fishing for bluefin tuna this year. The decision, announced before the month-long fishing season began last weekend, means that 49 large purse-seine vessels capable of rounding up whole shoals of endangered bluefin will remain in port. The Italian catch quota is being given to “artisanal” vessels, fishing with long-lines.

Fishermen from the purse-seiners, who have tended to fish using spotter planes so they can catch the maximum amount of tuna, will be paid unemployment benefit.

A large number of skippers will receive nearly £5 million in compensation for decommissioning their vessels, with 30 out of the 49 being decommissioned by the end of this year.

Rumour has it that fishermen were content to stop fishing not only because they were paid handsomely to do so but because the local sub-stock of bluefin has disappeared from the fishing grounds.

EU eyes have been pointed on the Italian fleet, with a much smaller bluefin quota this year and the authorities are understood to have been wary of provoking legal action by getting into illegal fishing scandals like those which dogged the industry in 2007 and 2008.
The environmental group WWF, formerly the World Wildlife Fund, said Italy’s decision in tackling the bluefin’s decline should be seen as a good example which other countries should follow.

Dr Sergi Tudela of WWF Mediterranean said: “Italy’s decision to keep its purse seiners ashore is to be applauded and upheld as an example to follow.”

“Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks cannot resist for much longer – by all accounts the species is endangered, with current populations dwindling at less than 15 per cent of what they once were. Nevertheless this year fleets are sanctioned to catch another 13,500 tonnes of fish, even when the rules are still widely violated.”

“WWF calls on ICCAT – the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, the regional management organization in charge of the Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery – and its members to respect their commitments to sustainable fisheries management.”

“A sound recovery plan for the exhausted species must finally be imposed when ICCAT meets in Paris in November – including above all a dramatic cut in catches to well below 8,000 tonnes.”

The latest advice from renowned international scientists shows that an annual catch of 8,000 tonnes would give the Atlantic bluefin tuna at best a 50 per cent chance of recovery.

Charles Clover

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US cats still eating bluefin flavour Whiskas

Cat food flavoured with bluefin tuna, an endangered species, is being advertised online by the food giant Mars in the United States despite undertakings by the company that it will phase out seafood from unsustainable sources.

US readers of Fish2fork have pointed out the following link to catfood with “natural” bluefin tuna flavour: http://www.whiskas.com/meal_time/trays/.

Last month Mars Petcare announced in Britain that it was now committed globally to using only sustainably sourced fish across the Whiskas and Sheba brand ranges by 2020. By the end of this year, the eco-label denoting Marine Stewardship Council certification would appear on packs.

Mark Johnson, managing director of the company, told environmental groups in a letter: “As Europe’s largest petcare business we consider that we are in a position to affect (sic) real change where governments and regulators acting along may not be able to.”

Willie Mackenzie of Greenpeace commented: “Continuing to encourage the use of endangered species for catfood seems rather at odds with Whiskas’ recent announcement that they will only take fish from sustainable stocks, and eventually get round to sourcing all its fish sustainable by 2020.

“Atlantic bluefin is collapsing now. There probably won’t be any left by 2020, so Whiskas may find it impossible to get a sustainable source for their ‘natural bluefin flavour’ very, very soon.”

A spokesman for Mars Petcare US said that the following statement was valid from the time of its policy announcement on March 31 – though it has not been released to the press before as far as we know.

“Sustainability is a journey and we’ve worked quickly to identify a viable and sustainable replacement for WHISKAS® Blue Fin Tuna Flavor in Sauce®. We’re pleased to announce today that we’re removing Blue Fin Tuna from the WHISKAS® line up and offering cats and cat lovers a more sustainable WHISKAS® variety made with real Pacific albacore tuna.”

The spokesman was unable to say what has become of the ahi tuna flavoured Whiskas also advertised online. Ahi is a Hawaiian term used to describe both yellowfin tuna and the endangered bigeye tuna.

Charles Clover

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Britain announces world’s largest marine reserve

London, 1.4.10.

A marine reserve that will double the amount of the world’s oceans under protection was announced today by David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary.

The protected area will extend 200 miles around the British Indian
Ocean Territory, a dependant territory in the middle of the Indian
Ocean, and will include a “no-take” marine reserve where commercial
fishing will be banned.

The 55 tiny islands of the Chagos Archipelago, as the islands are also
known, sit in some of world’s cleanest seas, surrounded by nearly 50
per cent of the remaining undamaged coral reefs in the Indian Ocean.

The marine protected area announced by Mr Miliband will be a quarter of a million square miles in size, some 70,000 square miles larger than the one around the North Hawaiian Islands declared by George W. Bush just before he left office.

Until the very last minute concerns about opposition from Mauritius,
which has a long-standing claim to the islands, had threatened to
derail the announcement of the reserve or at least postpone it beyond the next general election, expected to be called next week, as had the unresolved court case against Britain by Chagossians evicted in the creation of a military base on one of the islands, Diego Garcia.

Announcing the creation of the reserve, Mr Miliband said “I am today instructing the Commissioner of the British Indian Ocean Territory to declare a Marine Protected Area.

“Its creation is a major step forward for protecting the oceans, not
just around BIOT itself, but also throughout the world. This measure
is a further demonstration of how the UK takes its international
environmental responsibilities seriously.

“I have taken the decision to create this marine reserve following a
full consultation, and careful consideration of the many issues and
interests involved. The response to the consultation was impressive
both in terms of quality and quantity. We intend to continue to work
closely with all interested stakeholders, both in the UK and
internationally, in implementing the MPA.

“I would like to emphasise that the creation of the MPA will not
change the UK’s commitment to cede the Territory to Mauritius when it is no longer needed for defence purposes and it is, of course, without prejudice to the outcome of the current, pending proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights.”

Well over 90% of those who responded to the consultation made clear that they supported greater marine protection.

Scientists also advised that BIOT was likely to be key, both in
research and geographical terms, to the repopulation of coral systems along the East Coast of Africa and hence to the recovery in marine food supply in sub-Saharan Africa.

BIOT waters would continue to be patrolled by the territory’s patrol
vessel, which will enforce the reserve’s conditions. Alistair Gammell of the Pew Environment Group, a founding member of the coalition of environmental organizations known as the Chagos
Environment Network (CEN), which campaigned for the reserve, said: “We are thrilled by the U.K. government’s decision to declare the Chagos in its entirety as a no-take protected area.”

“The oceans desperately need better protection. In 2010, the
International Year of Biodiversity, the U.K. has secured a
conservation legacy which is unrivalled in scale and significance,
demonstrating to the world that it is a leader in conserving the
world’s marine resources for the benefit of future generations.”

Greenpeace biodiversity campaigner Willie Mackenzie said: “These
coral seas are a biodiversity hotspot in the Indian Ocean, and
unquestionably worthy of protection from destructive activities like
fishing. And this marine reserve will provide a safe refuge for many
globally endangered species such as sharks and turtles.

“The creation of this marine reserve is a first step towards securing
a better and sustainable future for the Chagos Islands. But this
future must include securing justice for the Chagossian people and the closure and removal of the Diego Garcia military base.”

By Charles Clover

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Victory for Japan: no marine species protected

Delegates overturned the protection of the porbeagle shark, agreed earlier this week, and rejected protection measures for other shark species in the closing hours of the global summit on trade in endangered species in Doha.

A proposal that would have regulated trade in the scalloped, smooth and great hammerhead sharks, along with dusky and sandbar sharks, was reconsidered, after being defeated earlier this week, but did not achieve the two thirds majority out of 175 countries it needed for approval.

Porbeagle shark won 84 votes for, 46 against and 10 abstentions. The hammerhead shark proposal won 76 votes for, 53 against with 14 abstentions.

Similar proposals to regulate trade in oceanic whitetip sharks, spiny dogfish and red coral have all been rejected this week.

The decisions made in the last hours of the Doha meeting made it a clean sweep by Japan, which had mounted an orchestrated campaign to vote down all 13 marine species proposed for listing under the Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) over the past two weeks.

Sue Lieberman of the Pew Environment Trust said: “It is a truly sad day for conservation. CITES used to be a treaty that restricted trade for the sake of conservation. Today, it has become a treaty that restricts conservation for the sake of trade.”

Heike Zidowitz, president of Europe’s leading association of shark scientists, the Shark Alliance, said: “These failures leave some of the oceans’ most vulnerable and heavily traded species at great risk from unregulated, international trade.”

The proposals to list porbeagle and spiny dogfish under CITES Appendix II were developed by the European Union while the United States proposed similar action for hammerheads and oceanic whitetip sharks. The Pacific island nation of Palau co-sponsored all four proposals.

The high demand for shark fins by Asian countries, which use them in soup, is thought to be the major threat to hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks while porbeagles and spiny dogfish are sought primarily to satisfy European demand for their meat.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), all the shark species proposed for CITES listing were classified as Globally Threatened under the IUCN Red List and meet the criteria for listing under CITES Appendix II, which regulates trade.

Appendix II listings require countries to issue export permits after deciding whether trade in a species is legal and not detrimental to the species’ survival.

In the debate on hammerhead sharks, Jane Lyder, the US Interior Department’s deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, told fellow delegates, “The only data available show that the species is in decline.”

But a delegate from Japan questioned those statistics, and suggested small island states would suffer economically if they were forced to regulate the shark trade. “For developing coastal states, trade would be hampered and enforcement would be a nightmare.”

Conservationists say the irony is that the country hosting the meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity this year is the country that did the most at this meeting to undermine the protection of marine biodiversity, Japan.

Charles Clover

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Porbeagle gets protection but other sharks stay in the soup

After a series of defeats for conservationists on other marine species, the porbeagle shark was listed for protection by the UN body that oversees international trade in wildlife.

Delegates attending the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meeting in Doha, voted more than two-to-one to list the porbeagle under its Appendix II, which requires exporting countries to ensure that international trade is legal and will not harm the survival of the species.

The porbeagle proposal succeeded by only one vote, after extensive lobbying for 18 months by EU delegations particularly Germany, and could still be overturned in plenary on Thursday.
Sources say Canada, one of the most trenchant fishing countries and an ally of Japan on other votes, surprised everyone during the debate by saying that a CITES listing would help with their national management of the NW Atlantic porbeagle stock.

Earlier in the day, delegates voted to reject similar bids to protect the hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks, favoured by the Asian finning trade. The spiny dogfish also failed to get protection. Currently, harvesting and commerce of the porbeagle – a temperate water shark which gestates for nine months and can live up to 65 years is unregulated internationally.

Stocks have collapsed to about ten percent of historic levels in the Mediterranean and the northeast Atlantic, and have declined elsewhere. Fished mainly for its meat rather than its fins, the species is listed as “critically endangered” in those regions, and as “vulnerable” globally.

As with all the marine proposals, the porbeagle bid was opposed by Japan, with Argentina, China and Iceland also speaking out against it.

The measure was submitted by the European Union, a major market for porbeagle meat, along with the small island nation Palau, for which sharks are more valuable alive — to attract scuba tourism — than dead.

At the previous meeting of CITES in The Hague in 2007, the species was denied Appendix II status in a tight vote, as was the spiny dogfish, which was also getting a second chance in Doha.

Canada noted that new data on the biological status of the species had convinced it to reverse position after 2007 and favour trade protection.

Both the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), and the secretariat of CITES also favoured the listing. “Appropriate management is urgently needed,” an FAO official said.

The Pacific nation of Palau, which last year created the first ever shark sanctuary, joined the United States in introducing the proposal to list the scalloped hammerhead shark and four look-alike species. It called on countries to protect the species so they can be fished into the future.

Japan, which has already successfully seen off an export ban on Atlantic bluefin tuna and regulations on the coral trade, argued that better enforcement, not trade restrictions was the answer. It also complained it would be difficult to differentiate the hammerheads from other species and would deprive poor fishing nations of much needed income.

It was joined in opposing the proposal by other countries dependent on the trade, including Singapore and Indonesia which catches the most sharks.

The voting was as follows:

• Porbeagle sharks passed by a vote of 86 for, 42 against and
8 abstentions.

• Scalloped hammerhead sharks failed by a vote of 75 for, 45
against and 14 abstentions. Known for their distinctive silhouettes, these sharks have declined by as much as 98% in some regions. Great and smooth hammerheads, vulnerable to overfishing because of the similarity of their fins, also were included in this proposal as “look-alike” species.

• Oceanic whitetip sharks, which failed by a vote of 75 for,
51 against and 16 abstentions. Mostly because their large fins have been valued at $45 - $85 per kilogram, oceanic whitetip populations have declined by as much as 90 percent in the central Pacific Ocean and 99 percent in the Gulf of Mexico.

• Spiny dogfish sharks, which failed by a vote of 60 for, 67
against and 11 abstentions. Spiny dogfish has one of the longest gestation periods for any vertebrate on the planet - up to two years - making the species extremely susceptible to overfishing.

Matt Rand, director of global shark conservation for the Pew Environment Group, said: “Sharks have been on our planet for more than 400 million years, but if governments do not act, many shark species will not last. Most species reproduce late in life, have few young and simply do not have the capacity to recover from commercial extraction and global trade “The shark fin trade which is responsible for the killing of up to 73 million sharks annually remains largely unregulated,” he added.

“Despite scientific data showing that many shark populations are plummeting, international fisheries management bodies and now international conservation forums have favored commerce over protection. Individual nations need to answer the call to protect threatened species if sharks are to remain in our oceans.”

Oliver Knowles from Greenpeace International said: “The devastating result this morning sees hammerheads and oceanic whitetip sharks join the Atlantic bluefin, and red and pink corals, as victims of short-term economic interest winning out over efforts to save species from extinction at this Cites meeting.”

Charles Clover

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Hammerhead sharks stay in the soup

A proposal to regulate trade in the scalloped hammerhead shark and four similar species was narrowly defeated at the summit of the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species(Cites) earlier today.

The measure was only narrowly rejected, failing by five votes to take the necessary two-thirds majority at the meeting after Asian nations argued that regulating the shark finning trade could hurt poor nations.

The tiny Pacific nation of Palau, which last year created the first ever shark sanctuary, joined the United States in introducing the proposal. It called on countries to protect the species so they can be fished into the future.

Japan, which successfully campaigned against an export ban on Atlantic bluefin tuna and regulations on the coral trade, led the opposition to the shark proposal. It argued that better enforcement, not trade restrictions was the answer. It also complained it would be difficult to differentiate the hammerheads from other species and would deprive poor fishing nations of much needed income.

They were joined by other countries dependent on the trade, including Singapore and Indonesia which catches the most sharks. Tom Strickland, the US Assistant Interior Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said regional fisheries bodies had done nothing to regulate the trade in endangered scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead as well as the threatened smooth hammerhead, and their numbers have dropped by as much as 85 percent.

“The greatest threat to the hammerhead is from harvest for the international fin trade and the fin of the species is among highly valued of the trade,” Strickland said. Conservationists say hammerheads are targeted for their fins more than any other shark species and are the most threatened. Fishermen, both industrial and small-scale, many operating illegally, slice off the fins and throw the carcasses back in the ocean and there are as many as 2.7 million hammerheads are caught annually.

Shark fin soup has long played central part in traditional Chinese culture, often being served at weddings and banquets. Demand for the soup has surged as Chinese middle class families become wealthier.

The hammerhead won 75 votes in the secret ballot with 45 against and 14 abstentions, leading conservationists to believe they may have a slim chance to reverse the vote later this week.

The oceanic whitetop shark also failed to win the two-thirds majority required for protection on Cites Appendix II. It received 75 votes in favour, 51 against, 16 abstentions (by a secret ballot). It failed to reach a two thirds majority by 9 votes.

The large fins of oceanic whitetip sharks have been valued at $45 -
$85 per kilogram. Oceanic whitetip populations have declined by as much as 90 percent in the central Pacific Ocean and 99 percent in the Gulf of Mexico.

Appendix II listing for the two shark species would have meant that trade would have been allowed wherever shark populations could stand the fishing pressure.

Matt Rand, director of global shark conservation for the Pew Environment Group, said: “Sharks have been on our planet for more than 400 million years, but if governments do not act, many shark species will not last. Most species reproduce late in life, have few young and simply do not have the capacity to recover from commercial extraction and global trade “The shark fin trade which is responsible for the killing of up to 73 million sharks annually remains largely unregulated,” he added.

“Despite scientific data showing that many shark populations are plummeting, international fisheries management bodies and now international conservation forums have favored commerce over protection. Individual nations need to answer the call to protect threatened species if sharks are to remain in our oceans.”

Oliver Knowles from Greenpeace International said: “The devastating result this morning sees hammerheads and oceanic whitetip sharks join the Atlantic bluefin, and red and pink corals, as victims of short-term economic interest winning out over efforts to save species from extinction at this Cites meeting.”

The fate of Spiny dogfish and porbeagle sharks is to be decided later today.

Charles Clover

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Red coral fails to get protection

Proposals to regulate trade in red and pink precious corals widely used in jewellery were defeated again at the summit of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Doha.

Three years after a similar proposal was rejected in The Hague, delegates defeated a proposal submitted by the United States to control trade in 31 species of red and pink precious corals (under Cites Appendix II).

The coral proposal failed to make the two-thirds majority of nations in favour that it needed. There were 64 votes in favour, 59 against and 10 abstentions.

The family Coralliidae includes over 30 pink and red coral species, the most commercially valuable precious corals. The species have been fished for millennia, and millions of items are traded internationally each year.

According to the proposal from the United States, the greatest risk to populations of Coralliidae is fishing to supply international trade. Landings have declining by 60-80 per cent since the 1980s and reductions in the size structure of populations in fished areas are equivalent to a loss of 80-90 % of the reproductive modules (polyps).

International demand has contributed to serial depletions of most known populations of pink and red corals, and newly-discovered stocks have been rapidly exhausted.

The two-week did decide by consensus to include several reptiles and amphibians from Central America and the Islamic Republic of Iran in its lists.

Governments did not have any objection to regulating trade in a Guatemalan Spiny-tailed iguana (Ctenosaura palearis) and other three species of iguanas native to central and south-eastern Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula and Central America. These iguanas are known to be in demand for the international exotic pet trade, mainly in Europe and the United States.

The CITES summit also adopted measures to protect a whole genus of tree frogs from Central and South America that is under pressure owing to habitat degradation and loss, and to the fungal disease chytridiomycosis. Some of these frogs are subject to international trade.

Continuing in the same trend for terrestrial species, a salamander endemic to the Islamic Republic of Iran was also listed by consensus in Appendix I, which means that international commercial trade is prohibited. The Kaiser’s newt (Neurergus kaiseri) is protected in its range State and the main concern is the demand for this species on the international market. Individuals caught in the wild are being illegally exported and find their way into the pet trade for use in aquaria.

Charles Clover

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The bluefin disaster – if they needed our help why didn’t they ask?

I don’t think I am alone in thinking that we need a post-mortem to establish what went wrong with the campaign in support of Monaco’s proposal for a listing of the bluefin tuna under Cites Appendix 1.

It seems fairly clear that while Japan and its allies perceived a danger to their interests from Cites listing and began campaigning against it as long ago as last year, the EU and the US remained preoccupied with divisions within their own borders until a late stage and did not grasp the strength of the alliance ranged against them.

That seems a pretty serious mistake by anyone’s standards. Anyone with a sense of history would have looked up the chapters in Carl Safina’s book, Song For the Blue Ocean, about how Sweden’s 1992 proposed Appendix II listing of the bluefin came to be abandoned, and learned the lessons of what Japan did then. It seems fairly clear that Japan ran a fairly similar campaign this time. Indeed, the head of its delegation, the charming but ruthless Masanori Miyahara, chief counselor to the Fisheries Agency of Japan is a veteran of Japan’s successful 1992 campaign. Did the UK, the strongest advocate of a listing in Europe, or the US not mobilize similar expertise from that time? I am inclined to suspect not.

Did Britain, Ireland, Norway, Germany and Sweden seek to explain their difficulties with the incompetent management of ICCAT over the past decade or more to Canada, South Africa, Australia, Iceland or New Zealand, rational fishing countries which might have understood their point?

I understood on the date of the vote that officials from the British government had made no attempt to introduce Norway, a major fishing nation which supported Appendix 1 on the basis of the FAO scientific panel’s findings, to South Africa and Namibia, key friendly countries which opposed it.

Secondly, did the US, EU or Norway not foresee the opposition of the Arab League to Monaco’s proposal on the grounds that it would cost the jobs of thousands of fishermen. Quite apart from making the point that the collapse of the tuna fishery would lead to the permanent loss of jobs, while a temporary Appendix 1 listing would actually lead to a recovery of stocks and of the health of the industry, the EU should
have been talking about compensation.

The EU’s own fishermen have received assurances that they would be compensated for not fishing, so what were the North African’s supposed to do? There is enough oil pouring out of wells in Qatar and Kuwait to keep them happy for a few years but did the West make that point to the Arab League? There is no evidence that it did. The Government of Qatar, which organized the Doha conference, is anxious to hide its role as conspirator in the plot to bring down the flagship proposal at Doha but as part of the UAE was it not responsible for opposing it.
Didn’t Britain and the US, old friends of the Arab world, twig this would happen?

Someone needs to ask whether sufficient diplomatic or political capital was thrown into the fight by pro-Annex 1 countries. Or did the EU and US only start thinking about winning hearts and minds after their support for Appendix 1 was announced? It has been clear to Japan since the ICCAT meeting last November of the fight it would face at Doha and it used the time well.

Were EU officials properly briefed on how votes worked at Cites or the need for a vigorous debate including all the best advocate nations behind the proposal – who were stifled into silence by the stupid EU policy of speaking only through the Presidency, in this case Spain which had been opposing the policy of support for Appendix 1 only two weeks before?

I can only throw the smallest sidelight on all this. Our film The End of the Line has been showing across Europe in screenings organized by a coalition of environmental organizations and has succeeded in persuading people everywhere that the bluefin campaign, and the proposal to put sharks on Appendix II, was the front line in the campaign to protect the resources of the sea. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has shown the film repeatedly in-house to its officials and I have attended a question and answer session for officials there.

We offered it to the British government for its reception at Doha, where we naively believed it might like to showcase its campaign to place the bluefin on Appendix 1. The offer was refused. We offered to help ministers and officials target those diplomatic contacts who would be necessary to persuade if an Appendix
1 listing was to succeed. Our offers were not taken up, nor, I gather, were those of some environmental groups. I heard from one official that the head of the British delegation didn’t come and introduce himself to me at Doha because he didn’t know what I looked like. Since our film has been credited by many with his government’s position on the bluefin issue, I find it rather difficult to believe that he hasn’t seen it. If he had, he would know who he was looking for.

So in short, if they had so little idea what they were doing, why on Earth didn’t ministers and officials ask civil society for more help?
It is now time for Parliamentarians and Congressmen to press these questions.

Charles Clover in Doha

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