Total ban on bluefin tuna considered

A two week meeting began this weekend to determine the fate of endangered species across the world amid a series of bitter international feuds.  The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) kicked off yesterday in Qatar with 1,500 delegates from 175 nations meeting to discuss proposals aimed at combating the threat of extinction faced by animals such as the bluefin tuna.

The conference, administered by the United Nations, will also focus on other contentious issues including the repeal of the prohibition on trading ivory, which is also the source of much heated debate.  

“2010 is a key year for biological diversity,” said UN under-secretary general and executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme Achim Steiner. “By ensuring that the international trade in wildlife is properly regulated, CITES can assist in conserving the planet’s wild fauna and flora from over-exploitation and thus contribute to the improved management of these key natural assets for sustainable development.”

Perhaps the most controversial debate has centred on a move to impose a total ban on the fishing of bluefin tuna.  Numbers of the fish have plummeted in the past decades with 90 percent of Atlantic stocks being lost as the result of over fishing and there are serious fears for the longevity of the species according to conservationists.  The best hope for the bluefin is to be put on the CITES Appendix I list of worldwide trade banning.

“The bluefin tuna crisis is one of the most visible examples of how badly we have abused our oceans in recent years, and a damning indictment on the state of global fisheries management,” claimed Oliver Knowles of Greenpeace International. “An Appendix I listing is perhaps the last hope for this highly impressive and important fish. Governments must vote the right way.”

The move, tabled by international minnows Monaco, is being fiercely contested by Japan, where 80 percent of the world’s bluefin tuna is consumed.  In a small country where fish is traditionally the most plentiful supply of protein due to low numbers of livestock, bluefin tuna has become the most sought after in the world with prices for a single fish able to reach upwards of $100,000.

Japan has declared that even if there is a decision to enforce a ban it will continue with what many Japanese see as part of their culture and proceed to flout any rules, a viable option under legislation from the 1973 convention.  The national reaction to CITES plans has been highly negative, with public demonstrations taking place in Japan against the prospect of being deprived of their highly prized bluefin, which to put in English terms would be roughly similar to the reaction to prohibiting the sale of donner kebabs in Luton town centre.

However it appears as though sashimi lovers across the world will have to prepare to curb their expensive habits as it is likely that a ban will take place.  According to the secretary general of CITES, Willem Wijnstekers there is substantial support for the ban. “I don’t think anyone has an argument against the listing of Atlantic bluefin tuna. There is no scientific argument against that.”