International Trade Bans Proposed for Bluefin Tuna, Polar Bears


GENEVA, Switzerland, October 29, 2009 (ENS) – Proposals for tighter trade controls on Atlantic bluefin tuna, polar bears, sharks, corals, and elephant ivory have been submitted to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species for consideration at its upcoming meeting in Doha, Qatar next March.

CITES meetings occur every three years and changes to trade rules, through amendments to the CITES Appendices, can mean life or death for whole species of animals and plants. The listing of a species in Appendix I prevents all commercial international trade. Species listed in Appendix II can be traded only under special permit conditions.

The global conservation organization WWF says the proposal to list Atlantic bluefin tuna on Appendix I is especially welcome. If approved, the listing would ban international trade in the large tunas for commercial purposes.

This proposal was submitted by the Principality of Monaco as Atlantic bluefin tuna populations are declining because of uncontrolled overfishing. Prized for the lucrative sushi market, bluefin tuna are being caught faster than they can reproduce.

The issue already has caused controversy within the European Union, with France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy announcing his support for a ban on commercial fishing of bluefin, but his government then opposing it during a close vote of European Union member states that failed to support Monaco’s proposal.

“An Appendix I listing for Atlantic bluefin tuna has become imperative if we are to save the species,” said Amanda Nickson, director of the WWF International Species Programme. “If we act now we can secure the future of this species and guarantee that fishing can be resumed in the future, but at a sustainable level.”

Atlantic bluefin tuna meets the criteria for a ban on international trade, scientists of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, ICCAT, said Friday.

The scientists met in Madrid, Spain last week to assess current stock status of Atlantic bluefin tuna against the specific criteria necessary to list a species under CITES Appendix I. The scientists confirmed that a suspension of commercial fishing is the only way to give the bluefin a chance at survival.

This official assessment of the bluefin’s population decline was welcomed by WWF and Greenpeace.

“We must stop mercilessly exploiting this fragile natural resource until stocks show clear signs of rebound and until sustainable management and control measures are firmly put in place,” said Dr. Sergi Tudela, head of fisheries at WWF Mediterranean.

“The ICCAT scientists have made formal what we have been saying all along,” said Sebastian Losada, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace International, “that Atlantic bluefin tuna is balancing precariously on the edge of collapse, and only drastic measures can now ensure this endangered species gets a fighting chance of recovery.”

But in the past, the advice of ICCAT scientists has been disregarded. Still, the two conservation groups are urging ICCAT to impose a zero quota at the organization’s next annual meeting next month in Brazil.

Polar bears depend on shrinking Arctic sea ice. (Photo by Ansgar Walk)

The United States has proposed to transfer the polar bear, Ursus maritimus, from Appendix II to Appendix I for greater protection. The U.S. proposal says polar bears are threatened with extinction due to “a marked decline in the population size in the wild, which has been inferred or projected on the basis of a decrease in area of habitat and a decrease in quality of habitat.”

Polar bears are completely dependent on sea ice, which they use for hunting prey, reproduction and movement, the U.S. proposal states. Sea ice has been reduced by eight percent in the past 30 years alone, while summer sea ice has been reduced by 15-20 percent. An additional decline of 10-50 percent of annual average sea ice extent is predicted by 2100.

A half dozen climate models, the best at predicting observed changes in sea ice to date, predict the complete loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic in about 30 years, the U.S. proposal points out.

Last year the United States listed the polar bear as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and earlier this month proposed to protect much of Alaska’s north coast as critical habitat for the bears.

WWF was encouraged to see that proposals were submitted to list several shark species on Appendix II, which allows for international trade but imposes strict regulations and requires proof that trade is sustainable and legal.

Threats such as bycatch and shark finning, illegal fishing and overfishing have caused serious declines in shark populations.

Also proposed for an Appendix II listing were red and pink coral, which are used to make jewellery. Red and pink corals are found throughout the world’s tropical and temperate seas but the absence of effective international trade controls has led to overharvesting.

Iran proposes to list a colorful salamander known as the emperor spotted newt under Appendix I, saying the Neurergus kaiseri, endemic to four streams in highlands of the southern Zagros Mountains in Iran, is “unlisted yet critically endangered.” The species is disappearing due to “extremely high levels of harvesting for national and international trade,” Iran said in its proposal.

Israel has proposed to transfer a lizard of the species Uromastyx ornata from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I. “The main reason is to better protect the wild populations of this species which are fragmented and in decline due to ongoing illegal collection and trade, as well as environmental factors such as climate change, severe drought, and overgrazing by domestic livestock,” the proposal states. Uromastyx ornata occurs now in four countries: Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Elephants will be a controversial topic at the CITES conference in Doha as conflicting proposals have been submitted.

Elephants in Zambia (Photo by Massa)

Together with a group of west African countries, Kenya submitted a proposal that would impose a 19 year ban on one-off ivory sales, such as the one that took place under CITES supervision in 2008. The proposal also would suspend the legal sale of ivory souvenirs in Namibia and Zimbabwe.

One the other hand, Zambia and Tanzania submitted proposals that would have elephant populations within their borders moved from Appendix I to Appendix II in order to ease the permitting rules for trophy hunting and allow for the sale of government-owned ivory stockpiles. Zambia proposes to sell 21.6 metric tonnes of ivory, while Tanzania wants to sell 89 metric tonnes, from registered government-owned stocks.

Conservationists worry that legal ivory sales will give cover to illegal sales of poached ivory.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare warns that despite ivory trade being banned 20 years ago, 104 elephants are being killed every day for their tusks. “This alarming level of illegal hunting could drive the African elephant to extinction across much of the continent in just 15 years,” the conservation group said October 20.

IFAW is urging all CITES Parties to stop supporting one-off ivory sales, legal ivory trade and elephant down-listing proposals. Instead IFAW is urging support for Kenya’s proposal to extend the current “resting period” on elephant and ivory decisions from nine years to 20 years when it is introduced at the March 2010 CITES meeting.

“Illegal ivory is now being used in conflicts in east Africa in much the same way as “blood diamonds” were used in civil wars across west Africa in the 1990s, IFAW says. “Demand for ivory in the Far East, particularly China, has reached record levels. The Sudanese Janjaweed cross into Chad to poach ivory and then take it back across the border to Khartoum where it is sold on to China.”

“WWF recognizes that some southern African elephant range states have successfully demonstrated that their populations should be placed on Appendix II,” said Nickson. “However, Tanzania and Zambia have yet to prove their case by demonstrating that their management of ivory stockpiles is adequate enough to prevent laundering of poached ivory.”

Tigers and rhinos are not the subject of listing proposals but both are critically endangered and are being poached in order to feed the illegal market for their parts and derivatives, warns WWF.

According to new research released this summer, tiger numbers could now be as low as 3,200 and rhino poaching has reached a 15 year high.

IFAW says the international illegal trade in wildlife is second only to the illegal trade in drugs and arms and worth an estimated $20 billion annually.

Click here to view all listing proposals for the March 2010 CITES meeting.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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