The 175 nation UN Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species (CITES) concluded its two-week summit in Doha, Qatar March 25th with governments failing to pass several proposals aimed at protecting endangered species such as polar bears, bluefin tuna, coral, and several types of shark. Yet, rates of Atlantic bluefin tuna have fallen 80% since 1970 given its high demand in Asian countries,and the international demand for shark fin meat leads to 73 million sharks killed annually. While some successes were achieved, such as protections for rhinos in Kenya and upholding restrictions on the elephant ivory trade in Zambia and Tanzania, the majority of environmental NGOs concluded the summit was a discouraging display of trade interests trumping conservation efforts.
Susan Lieberman, Deputy Director of The Pew Environment Group and head of the Cites Pew Delegation, shares insight into the politics behind the failures of the CITES summit in Doha.
From your perspective, in light of the many failures of the CITES summit in Doha, should CITES be reconsidered as the best framework toward advancing protective measures for vulnerable species?
It is not that CITES failed, it is the failure of governments which are a part of CITES which failed to protect vulnerable species. For example, the majority of votes were in favor of proposals to protect shark species, and lost by just a few votes. Unfortunately, Japan, with the support of China and its Asian counterparts, orchestrated a powerful campaign to form a blocking minority given 2/3 of votes is needed via a secret ballot to pass any proposal.
From the opposition standpoint, what were Japan and China’s arguments for not supporting the bans in light of the clear scientific data indicating marine populations are depleting at an alarming rate?
One of the official arguments posed by Japan is they do not believe fishing quotas should be handled within CITES. Rather, Japanese official propose this to be handled by regional fishery organizations. China argued it was too difficult to decipher fin species to adhere to restrictions, despite the U.S. offering to provide training support. While nobody denied the science, the truth is they did not want CITES to have ‘teeth’ or any power of enforcement to interfere with its commercial interests in its highly profitable fishing trade. Governments in countries such as Japan and China are under intense pressure from traders to ensure no regulations are enforced limiting the trade of shark fin or Atlantic bluefin tuna.
The CITES Appendix II listing was sought for many of the marine species considered for protection, which only would have required countries to ensure international trade was legal and not pose a threat to the survival of those species. Hence, even proposals to promote sustainable practices could not win support due to Japan’s lobbying efforts. We can’t keep plundering the oceans, we must at least reduce what we are taking, and that is what was proposed.
How was Japan able to influence other delegates?
Japan began this campaign well in advance of the summit at the highest levels of government lead by its fishery ministry. Developing countries receiving assistance from Japan were pressured to vote in support of Japan’s positions, despite countries such as Argentina pleading for protections of sharks as they understand its economic future is dependent upon sustainable fishing practices.
From a conservationist point of view, what lessons can be learned from the CITES summit in Doha to advance the cause for protections of the most vulnerable species until CoP in Thailand, 2013?
People want to think governments make decisions based on science, but the outcome of this CITES meeting proves otherwise. Short-term economics trumped, and long-term economics lost. The strategy now needs to shift towards working directly with national governments. EU countries and other conservation-minded governments recognize the need to fish sustainably, as do many developing countries, and this is where our focus needs to be. In light of the outcome of the CITES summit, the Pew Environmental Group just announced a new campaign to protect breeding populations of bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico, which is the fish’s only known breeding ground in the western Atlantic Ocean. We plan to work with the U.S. on reducing long-line fishing in this area which inadvertently catches and kills Atlantic bluefin tuna in the process for fishing for yellowfin tuna.
And, the irony of Japan’s role at the CITES summit is it will be hosting the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity summit in Nagoya, Japan in October. It is the perfect opportunity to focus attention on Japan and launch a campaign for Japan’s role in marine biodiversity. The Japanese people need to understand the consequences of over-fishing, and their government’s role in preventing strong conservation measures for marine species. We do not oppose people in Japan eating sushi-but we hope they will choose to eat sushi of species that are abundant, and are not threatened, such as the bluefin tuna. This is why it is so important to advance greater awareness among the Japanese public and scientists. The reality is 70 per cent of the world’s fisheries are on the way to extinction, we are plundering the oceans; there has to be some places left on earth where fishing is protected.
Interview by Neila Columbo