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Protection For Porbeagle Sharks Denied

March 25, 2010

The UN wildlife trade body withdrew protection Thursday for the cold-water porbeagle shark, reversing the only decision made during the 13-day conference to protect high-value marine species.

At the final plenary session in Doha, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) denied Appendix II status for the porbeagle, which is fished mainly for its meat.

This is a victory for Japan and China, who opposed all of seven proposals related to commercial marine species.

Lobbied heavily by Japan, the 175-nation CITES rejected a so-called Appendix I ban on cross-border commerce in Atlantic bluefin tuna last week.

Bluefin stocks have plummeted by up to 80 percent form Industrial harvesting in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic. The species will have another chance for protection when the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) meets in Paris in November.

A representative for ICCAT said Thursday that the body is ready to “assume its responsibilities.” But critics point out that the body has been unable or unwilling to respect its own quotas now for decades.

Japan agrees that tuna and other marine species are vulnerable, but argued that CITES is not the one that should mandate and regulate wildlife trade.

CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers disagreed.

“Japan thinks that CITES should keep its hands off of commercial species. I think that is wrong,” Wijnstekers said, pointing out that the reach of regional fisheries such as ICCAT stops at national borders.

“If species cross borders both legally and illegally — and unsustainably — then CITES can have important added value, and should be used for commercial species as well,” Wijnstekers told AFP.

CITES also refused Appendix II status for two other endangered sharks fished for their fins, which is used in sharkfin soup, a delicacy in many Chinese communities around the world. The spiny dogfish, hunted for its meat, has also been refused protection.

“This is a very sad day for conservation,” said Sue Lieberman, policy director for the Washington-based Pew Environment Group. “Japan and China pushed countries to vote against conservation. We put the endangerment of these species at their feet,” she said.

“It appears that money can buy you anything — just ask Japan,” said David Allison of Oceana, a marine conservation group based in the United States. “The very foundation of CITES is threatened with collapse.”

Image Courtesy NOAA

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