Bluefin Tuna Is Still on the Menu: Trade Ban Fails at International Summit

By Andrew Moseman | March 19, 2010 10:43 am

bluefinOn Monday, we reported that the United States and the European Union were spearheading an effort to ban the international trade of bluefin tuna at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Now that the week is ending, so are the hopes for the proposal that could have protected the vanishing fish. It failed by a wide margin, thanks largely to the diplomatic efforts of Japan.

Japan consumes around three-quarters of the globe’s bluefin tuna catch, with almost all of it served raw as sushi and sashimi, of which it is the most sought-after variety [Christian Science Monitor]. It can be an expensive delicacy there. In addition, the transformation of sushi from a luxury dish to a cheap food available at the corner store seems to be one of the factors that has led to quickly diminishing tuna stocks. The Japanese government, while acknowledging that the species is in danger, pledged to defeat the proposal or else opt out of complying with it.

At CITES, Japan rallied developing nations and fishing industry nations against the ban, and Libya called a committee vote that quashed the proposal before it even reached a vote in the full session. Privately, European diplomats expressed frustration that Japan, which consumes 80 per cent of the bluefin tuna caught, was able to cement opposition to the ban while the EU’s 27 member states were thrashing out their internal disputes [Financial Times]. The Christian Science Monitor, however, interviewed Japanese residents who say the fact that the bluefin is getting more attention than other troubled fish is partly because of building anti-Japan sentiment, pointing to the Toyota public shaming and the controversy connected to the documentary The Cove, which shone the spotlight on an annual dolphin hunt.

CITES meets every two or three years. Before this year’s meeting is out, the organization must vote on the proposal by Tanzania and Zambia to open up trade in elephant ivory. A ban on polar bear trade that the United States proposed already went down in flames. Finally, a proposal that simply called for more research into the illegal shark trade, in which fins are harvested for shark fin soup while the rest of the animal is left to rot, was also defeated.

Related Content:
80beats: Is Ivory Season Starting, Just As Tuna Season’s Ending?
80beats:Scientists Say Ban Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Trade–and Sushi Chefs Shudder
80beats: DNA Forensics Traces Sharks Killed for Their Fins
80beats: Human Appetite for Sharks Pushes Many Toward Extinction
80beats: Documentary on Endangered Bluefin Tuna Reels in Sushi Joints & Celebrities
80beats: Elephant-Lovers Worry About Controversial Ivory Auctions in Africa

Image: Wikimedia Commons

  • Doug

    So what you’re saying is absolutely no policy was changed… At all. And we wonder why so many animals are threatened with extinction…..

  • Zach

    I hear ya doug, but man i do love my bluefin tuna sandwich….

  • Katharine

    I think the Japanese got it backwards. The rising anti-Japan sentiment is because of the Toyota crap and the dolphin killing and the bluefin tuna.

  • Doug Watts

    Yay, extinction is good !!!

    Look what it has done for passenger pigeon exports.

  • JMW

    #3 Katharine…
    [sarcasm] Yeah, none of that stuff was their fault, so there’s no reason to be anti-Japanese [/sarcasm].

    Personally, I don’t know if there’s an anti-Japan sentiment building out in the real world. I know that I don’t have it. I’d prefer they didn’t kill whales and dolphins. I’m not surprised by Toyota’s troubles – I’ve seen it coming ever since they started…what did they call it…”de-contenting” their cars, to make them less expensive – i.e., using cheaper components.

    It just goes to show that it’s not just the Judeo-Christian viewpoint that treats the Earth like our own private playground. Bottom line, people are going to do whatever they think is right, and if they think today that eating tuna, shark fin soup or killing dolphins is okay, they’ll go ahead and do it.

    As a Canadian with knowledge of (though no direct impact from) the collapse of the cod fishery, I think we can tell them that they should learn from our mistakes.

  • laskdjf

    Hey Canada if you’re so great then why don’t you stop killing the seals????!!!! …D**ks.

    [Moderator’s note: Edited the cuss word.]

  • Brian Too

    Oh, this makes all kind of sense. Why save the tuna when we can hunt it to extinction? Let’s have all the tuna today, because we’re all we care about! Even the kids and grandkids don’t rate!

    The bluefin is a remarkable creature and therefore we must love it to death?!

    This has nothing to do with some alleged anti-Japanese sentiment. This has everything to do with the worldwide failure to successfully manage marine stocks. No one owns them and all the incentive is to get there first with the biggest boats and nets (before someone else does).

    Take a look at salmon, cod, tuna, sturgeon, shark, halibut, lobster, crab, turtle, whale and a hundred others. They are all in various stages of trouble. Meanwhile non-commercial species like jellyfish thrive to the point of massive (and bizarre) blooms.

    At this rate the commercial fishing industry is going the way of buggy whip manufacturers. It’s just that the end of large scale buggy whip manufacturing didn’t deprive the world of hundreds of beautiful and useful species. Shameful!

  • Tom

    So we don’t want to save it, but we’ll continue hunting and eating it all until we run out? Then what? No more bluefin sushi. Kind of a no brainer here isn’t it?

  • Paul

    I have no anti-jap sentiment, and I know that they bring up that reason simply as a way to counter the clear-cut charge thrown at them. They love their fish, so much that they just can’t give it up, and now the whole world is pressuring them to abandon it (at least in the short term), so out comes all the crap reasoning from them. It’s weird actually; because the japs are generally very smart and responsible.


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