March 14, 2010

Officials Meet To Discuss Tuna, Other Animals

The head of the UN Wildlife trade organization said on Saturday that Atlantic bluefin tuna is in crisis and meets the criteria for a total ban on international trade, according to the AFP news agency.

The 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is the only UN body that has the power to outlaw commerce in endangered wild animals and plants.

The Convention will debate a proposal on bluefin tuna, as well as the status of African elephants, polar bears and tigers.

Delegates from about 150 nations will vote on less strict protection for a variety of sharks.

About 73 million of sharks are hunted for their fins each year, which is a delicacy food eaten in China and Chinese communities across the globe.

The first item on the agenda is boosting the CITES budget.

"In the absence of necessary funding, CITES will not be able to fully exploit its great potential," Secretary General Willem Wijnstekers said in an opening statement.

The forum was best known for restricting commerce in charismatic species, such as big cats, great apes and elephants, until now.

However, a marine species, the bluefin tuna, has taken center stage.

High-tech fisheries have made tuna stocks plummet in the Mediterranean and Western Atlantic by 80 percent since 1970, despite self-imposed quotas.

"The secretariat believes the species (Thunnus thynnus) meets the criteria for Appendix I" of the convention, Wijnstekers said.

This conclusion, he added, "has been confirmed by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the scientific committee of the ICCAT," the inter-governmental fishery group that manages tuna stocks in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas. 

The United States and the European Union are supporting the move to list the fish on CITES' Appendix I, which bans international trade.  The bluefin tuna is worth about $100,000-a-head.

Experts say that top consumer Japan is fiercely opposed to the measures, and is sure to mount a vigorous campaign to block two-thirds of the votes of those at the conference needed for the top tier of protection.

A proposal by Tanzania and Zambia would reopen trade on elephants for ivory, which is currently under a nine-year moratorium that started in 2008.

Other African nations oppose the move, supporting a competing proposal that would extend the ban by another decade.

Polar bears are also in the running for being considered for top level protection.

CITES hopes to obtain a sustainable balance between protection and commercial exploitation.  CITES attendees consist of environmentalists, animal rights advocates, big businesses and governments.

Many ocean species are being eaten to the brink of viability.

"We have nearly 34,000 species placed under our protection. You need scientific studies, legislation, enforcement, training for customs police, capacity building," said Juan Carlos Vasquez of CITES in pleading for a 16-percent budget boost.

Animals and plants are listed on three different levels, depending on the degree of protection that is needed.

APPENDIX I includes about 530 animals, such as tigers, great apes, snow leopards and sea turtles.  It also includes over 300 plants.

The biggest majority of species are covered by the APPENDIX II, which permits carefully regulated trade.

The other species are covered by APPENDIX III, which brings protection by national laws.

The forum will separately consider a resolution to condemn tiger farming, which is practiced in China.


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