Is Ivory Season Starting, Just as Tuna Season's Ending?

By Smriti Rao | March 15, 2010 4:50 pm

bluefinSushi chefs in Japan are keeping a close eye on Doha, Qatar this week as delegates at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) debate the future of their beloved bluefin tuna. The fish, a delicacy in Japan that can sell for more than $100,000 apiece, is being overfished, and convention delegates aim to prevent the tuna from becoming extinct altogether. The proposal on the table: A complete ban on international trade of the fish to allow stocks to regenerate.

The bluefin tuna ban was proposed by Monaco, and the vote will probably come up next week. Japan has already dispatched a delegation to Doha with the message that Japan won’t comply with a total ban, and would instead prefer a fishing quota. But quotas have failed to help the depleted bluefin tuna stocks thus far. Japan last year pledged to help meet an accord to slash the total catch in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean by 40 percent, although environmental groups charge that such quotas are routinely exceeded [AFP].

The European Union and the United States have come out in support of a total ban, since decades of overfishing has caused the number of bluefin in the Atlantic and Mediterranean to crash by more than two-thirds. Japan, meanwhile, hopes to fend off the ban by enlisting the support of developing nations in Africa and Latin America. Tokyo said that even if a ban is implemented, it could use a treaty technicality to opt out of the agreement by expressing “reservations,” and would then continue to import from other countries.

Meanwhile, at the world’s largest fishing market in Tokyo’s Tsukiji district, bluefish tuna fishermen began collecting signatures to oppose the ban. They said measures to prevent overfishing of the tuna should be implemented instead [The Asahi Shimbun]. Traders also fear a steep price hike for the bluefin, known as “kuro maguro” or black tuna in Japan. A piece of “otoro” or fatty underbelly now costs 2,000 yen (22 dollars) at high-end Tokyo restaurants [AFP].

The other bitter battle being played out at the CITES meeting is Zambia’s and Tanzania’s proposal for a one-time sale of ivory, so that they may clean out their stockpiles of ivory–collected, they say, from elephants who died natural deaths. So far, the proposal has been resisted by countries like Kenya that argue that such sales give cover to poachers who engage in “ivory-laundering,” and would increase poaching in the region.

Zambia and Tanzania both insist that they will funnel the $18.5 million they expect to earn from the sale into conservation efforts, but that claim has been met with skepticism. A recent report in the journal Science revealed a sharp increase in poaching in recent years–with much of the ivory trafficking running through Zambia and Tanzania.

Kenya and its allies have proposed supporting a bluefin tuna ban in exchange for greater protection for the elephants. However, this horse trading is viewed as controversial: Conservationists argue that every proposal should rise or fall on the basic of scientific evidence detailing the possible extinction of individual species, not as part of a political deal [The New York Times].

Related Content:
80beats: Scientists Say Ban Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Trade–and Sushi Chefs Shudder
80beats: Human Appetite for Sharks Pushes Many Toward Extinction
80beats: Are Fish Farms the Answer to World Hunger or a Blight on the Oceans?
80beats: Documentary on Endangered Bluefin Tuna Reels in Sushi Joints & Celebrities
80beats: Elephant-Lovers Worry About Controversial Ivory Auctions in Africa
80beats: Would Importing Ivory to China Fuel the Black Market?

Image: Wikimedia

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • JMW

    @”Conservationists argue that every proposal should rise or fall on the basic of scientific evidence detailing the possible extinction of individual species, not as part of a political deal.”

    Whatever works.

  • Concerned Fishermen

    Give me a break. This is a “crisis” being fabricated by the environmentalists. There are millions of bluefin in the Atalntic- go check the stock assessments. It is just amazing how the press will run anything the enviros ask them to without doing any kind of fact checking. Bluefin are nowhere near “extinction” or anything like that. Whatever happened to an objective press?

  • Guy

    Japan is the world’s worst offender when it comes to exploiting the ocean’s wildlife. They routinely hunt endangered/protected whales using a “we’re doing it for research” loophole. They slaughter dolphins (see the documentary “The Cove”) and they over-fish these Blue-Fin tuna. It’s time the world calls them out on it and they start changing policy and enforcing environmental protections instead of trying to find ways around them.

  • Cassandra

    “There are millions of bluefin in the Atalntic- go check the stock assessments.”

    Provide ten links, or admit that your are lying.

    In the meantime: http://www.bigmarinefish.com/bluefin.html

    “The species in the greatest danger of slipping into extinction is the western north Atlantic population (stock) of bluefin tuna. Thanks to 4 decades of overfishing, it has been driven to just 3% of its 1960 or pre-longlining abundance – a decline of 97% – as shown in ICCAT’s figure at left. (ICCAT is the international commission that claims management authority over all tunas, marlin, swordfish and the other big fish of the Atlantic) In comparison to bluefin, Atlantic white marlin abundance has been driven to 6% of its pre-longlining abundance, and Atlantic blue marlin has been driven to 20% of its pre-longlining abundance.”

  • amphiox

    “There are millions of bluefin in the Atalntic”

    Not to mention that if the original population was say 200 million, having a few million left is hardly not cause for concern.

    A statement like this is meaningless without context. To use it in this fashion as an argument demonstrates either ignorance, or mendacity.

  • katwagner

    Exactly! What Guy said. The Japanese have killed whales for years under the pretext of “science” then it’s whalemeat on the menu in upscale restaurants. And Concerned Fisherman @2- plenty of PBS and Discovery Channel shows have detailed how tuna used to be HUGE. But there aren’t any big ones left. Fished out. Quit blaming the press.

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