CITES update: Bluefin and crocodiles and polar bears? Oh my!

The latest news out of CITES isn’t encouraging.  Marie Levine, President of the Shark Research Institute, is attending and made the following statement:

“Animals did not fare well at CITES today. The USA’s bid to have the polar bear uplisted from Appendix II to Appendix I was defeated, as was  Egypt’s attempt to have the Nile crocodile listed on Appendix II.
The biggest loss, however, was the Atlantic bluefin tuna. The species is heavily over-exploited by  massive international trade, and is listed as Critically Endangered in the Western Atlantic. The species was proposed for Appendix I due to The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT)  repeated failures to adopt science-based conservation measures for bluefin tuna. For example, while ICCAT’s Standing Committee on Research and Statistics recommended a Total Allowable Catch of 15,000 tons for 2007, the members of ICCAT set a Total Allowable Catch of 29,000 for that year!

The proposal lost by a huge margin: 20 votes in support, 68 against, and 30 abstentions. Because it was a secret ballot, it is not possible to determine the countries that voted for the proposal aside from the USA and Monaco. We can report, however, that the following countries spoke against the proposal: Japan, UAE, Tunisia, Canada, Indonesia, Grenada, Senegal, Turkey, Morocco, Chile, Venezuela, and Libya. The latter provided some entertainment with arguments so absurd that even the translators laughed. Japan pulled out all stops to ensure that these iconic fish have virtually no protection and are theirs for the plundering. “

I don’t really know why people are so surprised about the bluefin tuna situation. Sure, they are heavily exploited and present populations are a small fraction of their historical highs. Sure, they are one of very few fish species that might actually be driven to extinction by fishing because one fish can sell for tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars. However, the bluefin tuna trade is worth a lot of money, and CITES is a political process as much as it is a scientific one. Call me a cynic if you want, but it seems like the side with the money tends to win in many political processes.

Frankly, I’m surprised that there was so much support for a ban on bluefin trade.

What does this mean for sharks? Well, like sharks, the demand for bluefin comes primarily from one country (in this case, Japan instead of China). Like sharks, bluefin tuna are made into a delicacy and not a food staple. Like sharks, there is an enormous amount of scientific evidence showing the declines of bluefin tuna populations. Like sharks, trade of bluefin tuna is worth a lot of money.

I grow discouraged.