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Monthly Archive for March, 2010

Commerce Trumps Science at CITES, Threatened Sharks and Bluefin Tuna Still at Risk

Pew calls conference on global trade in endangered species a major disappointment

Doha, Qatar - 26 March, 2010 -The 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) concluded without providing any trade protections whatsoever for severely depleted Atlantic bluefin tuna and four vulnerable species of sharks – scalloped hammerhead, oceanic white tip, porbeagle and spiny dogfish.

“We cannot continue to empty our oceans without consequence,” said Susan Lieberman, director of international policy for the Pew Environment Group. “The CITES treaty has historically protected species. At this meeting, governments abandoned conservation and chose to protect trade instead. The imperative to safeguard the larger iconic species increases with every catch.”

CITES has listed marine species previously - including seahorses, queen conch, sturgeon and humphead wrasse - although it has traditionally focused more on land-based species including elephants and tigers. This year, however, there were more commercial marine species proposed for protection than at any meeting in the Convention’s 35 years.

The shark fin trade - responsible for the killing up to 73 million sharks annually - and global demand for shark meat continue to threaten scalloped hammerhead, oceanic white tip, porbeagle and spiny dogfish sharks. A CITES Appendix II listing would have required countries exporting shark products to ensure that international trade is legal and would not threaten the survival of those species. While the porbeagle proposal was approved in committee by a single-vote margin, CITES delegates rejected all four proposals by the end of the final plenary session.

“Despite fast declining populations of the ocean’s apex predators, CITES government delegates turned a blind eye to science,” said Matt Rand, director of global shark conservation for the Pew Environment Group. “Four threatened species of sharks were refused protections even though the evidence of international trade’s harmful effects was plentiful. Inaction can and will set these sharks on a course toward total population collapse.”

CITES delegates had the opportunity to prohibit all international trade in bluefin tuna, but they rejected the Appendix I proposal.
Overfishing, illegal fishing and the growing demand for high-end raw bluefin as sushi and sashimi has fueled increased catches, further depleting this shrinking population. CITES received reports that the science is undeniable that the Atlantic bluefin tuna qualifies for the highest level of protection, but the governments voted against the bluefin proposal.

In the wake of last week’s failed attempt at CITES to prohibit international trade in bluefin tuna, the Pew Environment Group today will launch a new campaign to protect breeding populations of bluefin in the Gulf of Mexico - the fish’s only known spawning ground in the western Atlantic Ocean.

The Pew Environment Group is the conservation arm of The Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-governmental organization that applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life.


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


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


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


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


Watch news clip on CITES and bluefin tuna

We have a great news clip from Al Jazeera discussing the outcome of CITES with a big focus on bluefin tuna. Our very own Charles Clover joins the debate discussing the disappointing outcome from this year’s meeting and suggests what the future may hold for this amazing fish.

Have a little look here


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


Head of fisheries at WWF Mediterranean comments on bluefin

Sergi Tudela, head of fisheries at WWF Mediterranean said: “After overwhelming scientific justification and growing political support in past months – with backing from the majority of catch quota holders on both sides of the Atlantic – it is scandalous that governments did not even get the chance to engage in meaningful debate about the international trade ban proposal for Atlantic bluefin tuna.

“The regional fisheries management organization in charge of this fishery - ICCAT - has repeatedly failed to sustainable manage this fishery. ICCAT has so far failed miserably in this duty so every pressure at the highest level must come to bear to ensure it does what it should.”

WWF said it would call on restaurants, retailers, chefs and consumers around the world to stop selling, serving, buying and eating bluefin.

“It is now more important than ever for people to do what the politicians failed to do – stop consuming bluefin tuna,” Dr Tudela said.

Charles Clover


Lastest report from Charles Clover in Doha “It was an Ambush”

It was an ambush. Fishing nations, led by Libya, ruthlessly voted down proposals to ban international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna at the meeting of 115 parties to the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species this afternoon.

Delegates from Monaco, the EU and the United States had hoped to keep the proposals being discussed into next week in the hope that compromises could be found. In the event, the debate was short and not at all sweet. Monaco’s proposal for an unqualified trade ban was rejected by 68 votes to 20, with 30 abstentions. Before that, the EU’s highly qualified version of the same proposal was crushed by 72 votes to 43.

The debate began with Monaco’s ambassador, Patrick Van Klaveren, speaking out in favour the proposal to place the Atlantic bluefin on Cites Appendix 1, on the grounds that the tuna had declined to less than 15 per cent of its original stock and UN scientists from two official bodies accepted that the criteria for it to be listed on Appendix 1 had been met.

This was followed by a lacklustre presentation, by the Spanish presidency, in favour of the conditions the EU wanted to place on the proposal. Then, instead of the torrent of support conservationists had hoped for there was a cascade of fishing nations, starting with Canada, speaking out against the proposed ban and in favour of leaving the management of the bluefin with the Atlantic tuna commission, ICCAT, which until recently has failed to set scientifically based quotas or to crack down on illegal fishing.

Speeches in favour of ICCAT continuing to manage the species, which can fetch up to $100,000 for a single specimen on the Japanese market, rolled on – Indonesia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Chile, Japan, Grenada, Korea, Senegal, Morocco.

Tunisia talked of social problems that would be caused if there was a ban, Morocco spoke of 2000 families in an area of no other employment who would have no income. Morocco said the bluefin was a flagship species it was in the interests of all to preserve, but said it was premature to regulate it under Cites.

Only Kenya, Norway and the United States spoke up in favour of a ban, despite advice from both the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and ICCAT’s own scientific committee that the bluefin deserved a respite from international trade.

By the time the eccentric Libyan delegate got the floor, it was clear where the majority lay. All it took was for Libya to propose a vote on Monaco’s proposal, and the chairman of the meeting, John Donaldson, had to put the proposal to close the debate to the meeting.

It was quite clear from there what would happen. Once the vote to hold a vote had been passed, the votes on the EU’s and Monaco’s vote were both lost.

Patrick Van Klaveren, for Monaco, said magnanimously: “It is not a defeat it is the manifestation of confidence put in ICCAT to solve the problem.” He threatened to come back in 2013 with another proposal to list the bluefin under Appendix 1 if ICCAT failed to take up the challenge to manage the bluefin for recovery.

At the press conference he shook hands with the leader of the Japanese delegation, Mitsunori Miyahara, who had taken part in the defeat of an attempt to place the bluefin on Cites in 1992.

Mr Miyahara, chief counsellor to the Japanese Fisheries Agency, said: “We agree that the bluefin is not in good shape. We have to take any measure for recovery. We have to work harder from now on.”

He said that at last November’s meeting of ICCAT, “finally the system started to work.”
“We are going to wipe out illegal fish from our markets.”

Sue Lieberman of the Pew Environment Trust branded the decision “irresponsible.”
“This meeting has said let’s take science and throw it out the door. There was clearly pressure from fishing industry. This fish is too valuable for its own good.
“Statements made about ICCAT blatantly were false. It’s time to hold ICCAT’s feet to the fire. We will be there every step of the way.”

Charles Clover


The Maldives has announced that it has banned shark fishing

Doha 18/03/10

The Maldives has announced that it has banned shark fishing in its waters, creating a sanctuary for those species in the Indian Ocean.
The Maldives currently allows only pole and line fishing for tuna.
The Maldives representative said at the Cites meeting that the island government was hoping that this would be a contribution to global conservation and would benefit its tourism industry which is heavily geared to dive tourism. But it was looking to other countries to adopt similar policies to save sharks.

A proposal to ban the commercial trade in polar bear parts and products, submitted by the US, was defeated by 62 votes to 48. So far no signnificant proposals have been passed at the Doha meeting. The Mariana Mallard was deleted from the Cites list on the grounds that it is probably extinct and therefore impossible to conserve.

Charles Clover


Japan backs closure of bluefin fishery – but not Cites listing

Doha. 17.3.10. The Japanese delegation in Doha said it was totally opposed to a ban on international trade in bluefin tuna but it would back a halt to fishing if scientists warned stocks were in danger. “Our position is quite simple, we would like to take conservation measures in the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, not under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species,” said Masanori Miyahara, head of the Japanese delegation.

“We are concerned about the bluefin tuna. We were willing to have the suspension of Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery at ICCAT [last November] but it was the EU that opposed it.” Mr Miyahara, who is chief counsellor to the Japanese Fisheries Agency, said there would be a new stock assessment undertaken by ICCAT this autumn. “As a result we will take necessary measures and if necessary suspension [of fishing for bluefin].”

Mr Miyahara said that Japan has worked hard in the past four years to crack down on illegally caught fish. It had forced tuna penners in North African waters to release 840 tonnes of bluefin that were of questionable origin.

It has also impounded 2300 tons of Maltese and Spanish frozen tuna because it does not have completed documents of origin. Mr Miyahara said Japan had a five-stage inspection system, using video to check the amount of fish in tuna cages. “It is not us, but the exporters and fishers who have to demonstrate compliance,” he said. “We are very serious about bluefin conservation and we are ready to take very serious measures,” he said.

He said that the proposal to list bluefin on Cites Appendix 1 was “unfair” because it would allow the EU to catch 3,000 tons, more than any country currently has under ICCAT, and the United States would be allowed to go on fishing for its own domestic market.

Mr Miyahara said it would be a mistake to think that Japan could not do without bluefin, however. Bluefin represented only 3 per cent of imports. It imports annually 400,000 tonnes of high quality including yellowfin, southern bluefin tuna and bigeye.

Some delegations are picking up feelers that despite Japan’s outright opposition to bluefin being included under the Cites treaty, it might be prepared to compromise on some form of Appendix II listing, which means regulated trade. Mr Miyahara is a veteran of the Japanese delegation which successfully saw off an attempt by Sweden to list the bluefin tuna on Cites Appendix 2 in 1992.

A member of the Swedish delegation who asked to remain anonymous said last night: “Sweden withdrew the proposal in 1992 because ICCAT promised to shape up, which they did not do. This has been demonstrated by Monaco in its 47-page proposal to list bluefin under Cites Appendix 1.”

Charles Clover


Arab League opposed to all marine listings

Opposition to the listing of sharks on Cites Appendix II and bluefin on Appendix I received a boost in Doha yesterday when it became clear that the Arab League countries would be opposing all marine proposals, including the listing of red coral.

Sources close to the convention said that the League was concerned by the “socio-economic problems” that stopping trade with Japan would cause for fishermen along the North African coast.
Tunisia, in particular, has expressed strong opposition to a Cites Appendix 1 listing of bluefin.

Ghamen Abdulla Mohamed, director of wildlife conservation at Qatar’s Ministry for Environment, refused to comment and said the host nation would make its views known “after discussions.”

Patrick Van Klaveren, the ambassador to Monaco, which has proposed the Appendix 1 listing, said there could be ways of compensating the fishermen, possibly even through the richer members of the Arab League or some environmental fund.

One thing is clear; there is no mechanism for compensating fishermen under ICCAT which is the management regime Japan wants to stick with.

Charles Clover in Doha


Appendix II equals business as usual and that’s bad

March 16, Doha.

I predicted yesterday that Japan would be trying to get the Cites meeting to back an Appendix II listing for the bluefin tuna, which means regulated trade. The Pew Environment Group put out a very clear statement earlier today which shows why Appendix II would mean business as usual for the tuna, ie more gutless management by ICCAT.

Pew’s statement said: “We wanted to let you know that we’re hearing that some nations are thinking about proposing an Appendix II listing for Atlantic bluefin tuna. Please note that this would not change the status quo, and is just an effort to block what is really needed—Appendix I and a trade suspension. The CITES treaty is written so that if the trade of a species listed in Appendix II is governed by another treaty that predates CITES, than all trade management in that species defers to the initial treaty, not CITES.”

“In the case of Atlantic bluefin, whose trade is governed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), an Appendix II listing keeps the species management in the hands of the treaty organization that has failed to set sustainable catch levels and has no enforcement authority.”

I hope that is clear. Only an Appendix 1 listing will do.

Take note Australia, which thinks perversely that management of the bluefin should be left with ICCAT, an organisation with few of the controls that now govern the fishing of the southern bluefin tuna.
Why side with lower standards than you set yourselves? I think Australia is missing something here.

Charles Clover


Charles Clover’s update from CITES

Greetings from Doha, Qatar, where some 120 countries, so far, are meeting to discuss the protection of the world’s endangered species.

This is the beginning of discussions which will decide the fate of 42 proposals over the next two weeks to restrict trade in species ranging from the polar bear to Mexican plants used in lipstick and, via the ever controversial big cats and ivory, to this year’s most controversial species, those caught in commercial fisheries, including several species of shark and the Atlantic bluefin tuna.

As expected, the bluefin is causing the most excitement, particularly in Japan, where some 80 per cent of the journalists booked to be here are from. Japan has a delegation of more than 50.
They have been busy. They have been placing stories saying that the attempt to ban international trade in the bluefin is an attack on the Japanese custom of eating fish. Well, it isn’t, it about the failure of soft management for a species that goes for a lot of hard currency.
They have been placing stories to worry the West Africans, saying that the Spanish and French purse seine fleets which fish in the Mediterranean will come to their waters if trade is banned, ignoring the fact that these are not long-distance, ocean-going vessels and it is up to the West Africans who they allow to fish in their waters, anyway. It looks as if Japan is panicking.

There have been indications that the secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species is increasingly getting fed up with the allegations from fishing countries that CITES is no place to regulate commercial fish species(CITES already regulates trade in 24,000 plant species and 4,000 animals and has done since 1975.)

Willem Wijnstekers, its secretary general, told the opening plenary that he found comments that CITES should not get involved in regulating bluefin “really worrying” and he totally disagreed with that comment. The Secretariat is increasingly calling the tune. It has commissioned a review of whether the EU’s complicated and Machiavellian proposal endorsing an Appendix 1 listing of bluefin - but placing lots of conditions on it - is legal. That is expected in the next couple of days.

Meanwhile, we can expect Japan to become shriller still in defense of the disgracefully-managed trade in its favorite sushi.

Charles Clover


TEOTL screening in Malta

Our screening in Valletta, Malta, and the Q&A afterwards was the closest we’ve come to a riot. I had a fairly good idea of what was ahead when we walked down the aisle in the dark and the back two rows were full of people on their blackberries, not watching the film: the tuna industry.

Malta, of course, is tuna central. Or rather tuna penning central, because the tuna penners use foreign fishermen to catch their fish, to the detriment of Malta’s own traditional fishermen. Malta has also been run by the same political party for over 20 years. And the Government is on the side of the tuna penners. So we weren’t expecting an easy ride.

I had heavyweight support. On the panel beside me were Rashid Sumaila of the University of British Columbia, Craig Dahlgren or the Perry Institute and Caroline Muscat, assistant editor of the Sunday Times of Malta.

The room contained an extraordinary cross-section of Maltese life, including two senior politicians, Paul Borg Olivier, former chairman of Valletta, and general secretary of the Nationalist party, and George Pullicino, Resources Minister a well as senior civil servants.

It also contained Charles Azzopardi, the tuna magnate who owns and operates many of the tuna farms in Malta. You could hardly blame the organizers, GlobalOcean, Nature Trust (Malta) and Friends of the Earth for not doing their job. It was a sell-out.

The questions were nearly all, understandably, about the European Commission’s proposal to place the bluefin on Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which could close down the tuna penning industry which brings in around 100 million euros a year or around 1 per cent of the Maltese economy.

These proposals are still opposed by Malta, Spain, Cyprus and Greece. One Prof Carmelo Agius, who works as an advisor to the Federation of Maltese Aquaculture Producers, cast doubt on the famous “escalator moment” in our film when we reveal that on the basis of scientific advice that a sustainable quota was 15,000 tons and the quota set by the Atlantic tuna commission, ICCAT, was 29,500 tons, the actual catch was 61,000 tons.

His query threw me at the time, as no one had raised it even when we showed the film to members of ICCAT’s scientific committee. I asked for the reference which Prof Agius has now provided. And as far as I can see he is wholly wrong. Still says the actual catch in 2007 was 61,000 tons. It revised its estimates in 2008 on the basis of a shorter season.

There was more of the same. One voice from the back asked why we had given time in our film to Roberto Mielgo, a former tuna farmer, who had turned his back on the industry. I said Malta had the greatest respect for a similar figure who had a similar conversion, St Paul. This got the biggest applause of the night.

A senior civil servant said that in his opinion a C.I.T.E.S ban was unenforceable as bluefin could be passed off as one of a number of lookalike species. I pointed out that we had carried off a journalistic first in the film by DNA testing the tuna in Nobu’s London restaurants – all of which turned out to be bluefin from the Mediterranean. There are companies who offer the same traceability tests to Brussels inspectors.

Rashid Sumaila pointed out that over-fishing in Africa was one of the reasons why Malta is plagued by illegal migration. Caroline Muscat pointed out that a ban on international trade would not stop local fishermen plying their trade but would stop the industrial methods the tuna pens depended on which were wiping out the tuna.

Then the rotund figure of George Pullicino got to its feet. Mr Pullicino argued that international trade in the tunas should not be banned but regulated by ICCAT. I said that this organization had failed to do that over the past 40 years.

Then he asked whether the British, portrayed in our film by Ben Bradshaw, the then fisheries minister, would have been happy for the cod to be listed under C.I.T.E.S. Appendix 1. I began an answer, in which perhaps foolishly I said that the circumstances were not identical, only for the room to erupt into shouting. A fisherman in front of the minister shouted out his question and the hecklers at the back joined in.

The panel discussion was brought to an end and Fat George was able to slip away without answering a number of questions which seem pertinent. Why does he support the most lucrative part of the tuna industry which is most likely to cause its collapse, rather than the most sustainable, traditional part? When does he think the tuna population will collapse below the point of no return, because at the present rate of exploitation that is inevitable? And most pertinently of all, why is he continuing to assert Malta’s outright opposition to an international tuna trade ban instead of negotiating the best compensation package for the largest number of Malta’s fishermen, because the largest tuna penners are already diversifying into other businesses?

To my surprise as we all trooped next door for a drink and a canapé, I found myself shaking hands and sharing a drink with some of those who had been shouting, particularly the fishermen. The heat of the moment had passed and they were being hospitable. I was discovering one of the most charming things about Malta.