UN experts back proposal for bluefin tuna trade ban | WWF

UN experts back proposal for bluefin tuna trade ban

Posted on
15 December 2009
Rome, Italy - United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) experts say evidence shows the endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna meets the requirements for an international trade ban.

The experts met as a panel last week to discuss trade regulations governing six commercially traded marine species and whether to recommend further action to protect them from overfishing.

Other species considered by the panel included spiny dogfish, porbeagle, red and pink corals, scalloped hammerhead sharks and oceanic white tip shark.

The FAO’s panel is highly influential in how countries vote during the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which will hold its 15th annual meeting in March in Doha, Qatar.

Countries with strong fisheries interests often rely on advice from the panel on how to vote during those meetings, meaning that the long-term survival of some endangered species often depends on the FAO panel’s recommendations.

The FAO opened its statement today saying that "a majority of the panel agreed that the available evidence supports the proposal listing under CITES Appendix I of Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus)" and later highlighted that "an Appendix I listing would be likely to reduce the bluefin catches from both component populations. This would assist to ensure that recent unsustainable catches in the east Atlantic and Mediterranean are reduced."

CITES, which is an international agreement between governments that works to ensure that international trade in wild species does not threaten their survival, normally offers its own scientific assessment on all the proposals it receives. However, in response to the concerns of larger fishing countries, it made an agreement with FAO that tasks the organization with conducting its own technical assessment of proposals for commercially traded marine species.

This week’s recommendation from the FAO panel came after the scientific committee of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the regional fisheries management organization in charge of the Atlantic bluefin fishery, had already shown through their own analysis that the species meets the criteria for a ban on international trade.

"Today’s comments from the UN backing stronger protection measures are a crucial contribution to efforts to save the Atlantic bluefin tuna,” said Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean. “A listing on Appendix I of CITES, which would temporarily ban all international commercial trade, is the best option by far to ensure the recovery and long-term survival of Atlantic bluefin tuna, now severely overfished."

"We all want the same thing ultimately - a sustainable, thriving fishery and trade of this species, but to achieve that goal some drastic measures are necessary now to give the fish a break.”

“WWF urges all CITES Contracting Parties to adopt a strong position on the Atlantic bluefin tuna listing proposal to ensure a positive vote for the temporary trade ban in Doha - and thus a chance to save this icon of the oceans."

In addition, the panel recommended stricter trade controls through listing on CITES Appendix II for porbeagle, scalloped hammerhead and oceanic white tip sharks.

However, they also said that spiny dogfish or red and pink corals did not meet the criteria for stronger trade controls.

WWF welcomed the panel’s recommendations on porbeagle, scalloped hammerhead and oceanic white tip sharks but expressed disappointment that these experts failed to see the importance of giving spiny dogfish and red and pink corals the same trade controls.

The panel recognized that “inadequate management in many areas of distribution of these species represents a cause for ‘serious concern,’” and it recommended that national governments and regional fisheries management organizations remedy the situation on their own.

WWF does not agree that this will be enough to save these species, and believes that these species need the support of a CITES Appendix II listing.

WWF is concerned that in cases such as red coral the panel assumed that, where data are lacking on how much is harvested, that the species is not overharvested. This is contrary to the precautionary principle that lies at the heart of conservation decision-making. In fact, the reason the data are lacking is usually because the proper research has not been conducted or because countries are failing to report their catches.

A detailed report on the recommendations of the panel will be released by the FAO next month.

A juvenile bluefin tuna jumping from the water in the Mediterranean Sea.
© WWF / F. Bassemayousse