Bluefin tuna not protected after Canada sides with Japan

Posted Mar 19, 2010 by Stephanie Dearing
Gail Shea, Minister of Canada's Fisheries and Oceans provoked debate across Canada Friday after she backed Japan's stance on continuing to fish the endangered bluefin tuna.
A worker prepares tuna for auction at a Tokyo fish market. Image:
A worker prepares tuna for auction at a Tokyo fish market. Image:
The United Nation's Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) voted late Thursday against protecting the endangered Bluefin Tuna, a fish species prized as the top sports fish due to its size. CBC News said Gail Shea applauded the decision by CITES for being the right decision. Bluefin tuna stocks have declined by 80% in the past hundred years, prompting the proposal to ban fishing of the species.
Monaco had proposed the ban that was voted down. The head of Monaco's delegation to CITES, Patrick Van Klaveren, warned the Sydney Morning Herald the decision to continue fishing the tuna means the end of the species. ''It will not be [the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species] that is the ruin of professional [fisheries]. It will be nature that lays down the sanction, and it will be beyond appeal.''
A Canadian expert, however, told Macleans Magazine that a ban would not have protected the species, which has suffered from over-fishing. Mike Stokesbury blamed overfishing by Japan, the United States, France, Spain and Portugal as responsible for the decline of the fish. Stokesbury said the ban wouldn't have protected the fish. Canadian fishermen, Stokesbury said, follow all the rules for fishing Bluefin. He characterized the Canadian bluefin fishery as "a really small player."
Shea had argued for responsible fishing of the species, noting there is already a conservation plan for the tuna provided by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). CBC News said this argument from Canada helped to overturn the proposed ban. Japan, however, had been the biggest lobbyist against a ban on fishing bluefin tuna, even alleging a ban would mean economic disaster for some nations.
The Guardian characterized the CITES vote in a blog titled "Bluefin Tuna loses out simply because scarce fish makes a profit." In that blog, George Monbiot bluntly writes "The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which is supposed to discharge this task, is in urgent need of a new name: it should be called the the International Commission for the Cleansing of Atlantic Tunas. It has repeatedly set catch limits way above what its own scientists have proposed, and turned a blind eye to illegal bluefin catches which probably outweigh the legal take." Greenpeace has also alleged the ICCAT is responsible for the demise of the bluefin tuna.
The United States was in favour of the ban, as was Norway and Kenya. The CITES delegates voted prior to hearing presentations for and against the ban, due to a procedural loophole. Susan Lieberman, Pew Environment Group's Director of International Policy noted "It's pretty irresponsible of the governments to hear the science and ignore the science. Clearly, there was pressure from the fishing interests. The fish is too valuable for its own good."
Japan, the world's largest consumer of bluefin tuna, was understandably pleased with the outcome of the vote.
In a press release issued early in March, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) stated "Currently about 40,000 tons of Atlantic bluefin tuna are caught every year, well over four times the amount of fish that scientists say can be taken to avoid stock collapse." The WWF asserts the species does not have much more time before becoming extinct.
Will the Bluefin survive the human quest for its tasty flesh? Is the ICCAT conservation plan sufficient, or is it flawed? Will Japan safeguard the remaining population of the species? The CITES vote might turn out to be a historic moment for all the wrong reasons.
Another proposal to ban fishing of the species can be brought back to CITES, but the next CITES meeting will not occur for another two to three years.