Ban on bluefin tuna would 'threaten Japanese culture'
Delegates from 175 countries debate a proposal to restrict the international trade in the sushi delicacy
Sunday 14 March 2010
The fate of the Atlantic bluefin tuna – beloved by sushi gourmets and on the brink of extinction – could be decided within days.
The 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) opened yesterday in Qatar to debate proposals banning the international trade in the fish. Delegates will also discuss moves to restrict the sale of sharks' fins.
Cites has been successful in restricting trade in big cats; great apes and elephants but this is the first time a marine species has taken centre stage.
Willem Wijnstekers, the secretary general of Cites, said there was much more support than two years ago for restricting or banning trade in many marine species, including the bluefin. "I don't think anyone has an argument against the listing of Atlantic bluefin tuna. There is no scientific argument against that."
He added that countries were turning to his organisation because tools to manage stocks were not working and that many of the oceans' commercially fished species were under threat. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation says more than half of all marine fish stocks are under threat.
Plans to ban fishing and the international trade of bluefin and sharks has prompted a bitter international tussle, with Europeans and Americans pitted against the fishing nations in North Africa and Asia, especially Japan, which has already vowed to ignore any bluefin ban. The Japanese consume 80 per cent of bluefin eaten worldwide, and the ban proposal has provoked public protests in Tokyo and other Japanese cities.
Opponents claim Japanese culture is under siege and that concerns about bluefin extinction are overblown. Sushi is a popular dish in Japan, where fatty bluefin – called o-toro – sells for as much as 2,000 yen (£13) apiece in high-end Tokyo restaurants.
Canada, which has a sizeable tuna fleet, is known to oppose export bans.
Monaco, the sponsor of the proposed ban, said bluefin numbers have declined by nearly 75 per cent since 1957. Despite quotas, high-tech fisheries have drained tuna stocks in the Mediterranean and western Atlantic. Such is the demand that one fish sold recently for £111,000 at market, according to the Marine Conservation Society.
Opponents of the trade are more hopeful after the US recently backed a ban. Supporters of the proposal are now watching closely to see whether other fishing countries will join Japan's rebuff – which would allow them to sell tuna to the Japanese.
Achim Steiner, the executive director of the UN's Environment Program, which administers Cites, said limiting the trade on a range of threatened species could go a long way to ensuring biodiversity. "By ensuring that the international trade in wildlife is properly regulated, Cites can assist in conserving the planet's wild fauna and flora from overexploitation and contribute to the sustainable development."
Sam Wilding, the fisheries officer for the British Marine Conservation Society, said: "These opportunities do not come around that often, and it is time for the majority to stand up to the minority that gain so much economic benefit from driving species towards the brink of extinction. We urge consumers to help by avoiding all fish on our red list and to ask where your tuna comes from, to ensure it's sustainable."
Other items on this week's Cites agenda include measures to combat ivory poaching in Africa, banning tiger farming in China, and the trade in polar bear skins. There is also a bid to regulate the trade in red and pink corals – harvested to make expensive jewellery.
Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
The ugliest animals on earth: Blobfish, axolotl and proboscis monkey battle it out to be named least attractive beast
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Killer plants: A handy guide to the hidden dangers in your garden
Green movement must escape its 'white, middle-class ghetto', says Friends of the Earth chief Craig Bennett
- 1 Humans of New York image of crying gay teen receives best response yet from Ellen DeGeneres
- 2 What supermodels really think about posing in the nude
- 3 People all over the world are getting semicolon tattoos to draw attention to mental health
- 4 Black teen in critical condition after store employee 'shoots him for stealing 79-cent pack of cookies'
- 5 Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
£20000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This long established dealer gr...
£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company is the UK's leading...
£23172 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading and fastest growing h...
£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an experienced Resident...