Published 25 March 2010

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Marine species get raw deal at CITES

Doha, Qatar, 25th March 2010 – A United Nations meeting on endangered species trade adjourned today after two weeks of negotiations marked by the repeated rejection of proposals to better protect marine species, such as the Atlantic bluefin tuna, corals and several shark species.

Dancers at the opening ceremony, when many delegates were optimistic marine species would be listed by the Convention, but the optimism proved unfounded. © TRAFFIC   

Trade issues on marine species failed to attract the necessary support at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which meets once every three years. 

“It is shameful that many CITES governments ignored science in favor of political gain when making decisions on marine species. These issues dominated this meeting and will come up again in future meetings,” said Carlos Drews, Head of WWF’s Species Programme. “If CITES cannot set aside political considerations and follow scientific evidence, the implications for conservation, sustainable use of marine species and coastal livelihoods are worrying.”

Despite the failure of high-profile marine species including corals, sharks, and in particular the critically endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna, governments did make progress towards implementing better protection for rhinos, tigers and Humphead Wrasse.

Of the marine species, Porbeagle shark was the only proposal initially accepted, but it was overturned today, during the final day of the meeting. 

“Though it was disappointing, the rejection of the proposed Atlantic tuna international trade ban should be seen as an opportunity, not as a failure,” said Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean. “It is now up to members of regional management organizations in charge of Atlantic bluefin tuna fisheries to gather the political courage for what they have been too timid to do for years – put in place scientifically sound recovery plans for this critically endangered fish.”

Tudela said the Doha meeting would be seen as a turning point for the recovery of Atlantic bluefin tuna populations. 

“I hope that someday this CITES meeting will be seen as the tipping point where governments decided to come together to save the Atlantic bluefin tuna and stop bowing to industry pressures,” Tudela said. “A new pro-conservation scenario has opened up in the run-up to the next meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) in November in Paris.”

“This must include a ban on industrial, or purse seine, fishing in the Mediterranean Sea,” Tudela said. “And the EU – which has the largest tuna catch quota and the most purse seine fleets – must step up and push for this ban at ICCAT, in line with its backing for the trade ban here at CITES.”

“ICCAT and other regional fisheries management organizations now must deliver - the world will be watching,” said Steven Broad, Executive Director TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. 

Meanwhile, market players and consumers must do their part by stopping buying, selling, cooking, serving and eating Atlantic bluefin tuna.

“This will send a strong message to decision-makers that business as usual is simply no longer acceptable,” Tudela said.  

Red and Pink Corals – species that are heavily exploited for the jewellery trade, but greatly overharvested in many parts of their range failed for the second CITES meeting running to be afforded greater protection within the Convention. 

Ivory issues still unresolved
Separately, requests by two countries – Tanzania and Zambia – to relax trade restrictions on their elephant populations which would have allowed for a one-time sell-off of government-owned ivory stockpiles were both voted down at the meeting. 

“African nations now seem further away from a consensus on how to deal with the ivory issue than at any time since 1989,” said Steven Broad, Executive Director TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. 

“The dilemma remains - each year tonnes of legally sourced ivory accumulate in government stockpiles in Africa, yet the continent remains divided on what to do with this resource.” 

Tigers and rhinos get CITES support
However, there were some conservation successes at CITES related to tigers and rhinos, which are facing a global poaching crisis.

Tiger range countries, including China, reached a strong consensus in Qatar on the way forward to address pressing concerns of illegal trade threatening wild populations of Tiger and other Asian big cat species. 

CITES governments maintained their position against farming of tigers for trade in parts and derivatives.

In addition, countries with rhino populations agreed to focus on increasing law enforcement, training of guards, strengthening border controls, improving rhino population monitoring, creating awareness raising campaigns in consumer countries such as Vietnam, and rooting out organized crime syndicates that are behind the increase in poaching and illegal trade.

Enforcement boost
More financial resources for tackling enforcement were agreed in the CITES budget discussions and the recently-formed International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), made up of the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Bank and the World Customs Organization, the Consortium has committed to engage on a number of joint activities to bring wildlife criminals to justice.

“CITES trade rules can only deliver conservation and economic benefits if they are enforced properly and all too often this is simply not the case” said Steven Broad, “the new commitments to CITES compliance and wildlife trade law enforcement announced at this conference are crucial steps in the right direction.