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Sushi-cide: Secret ballot kills hopes for bluefin tuna protections

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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bluefin tunaThe triennial meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is still underway in Doha, Qatar, this week, but so far news coming out of the conference is a mixed bag. Some trees have been protected, tigers gained a few friends, and a rare salamander got some attention, but all hopes to save the critically endangered bluefin tuna were sunk in a secret ballot that put commerce ahead of science and conservation.

As I’ve written here before, populations of Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) have dropped 97 percent since 1960, but the tasty fish remains in high demand in Japan, where sushi bars are willing to pay up to $100,000 or more per fish. A possible CITES ban on bluefin tuna—supported by the U.S. and 27 European Union nations)—has been in the works for months. Japan, meanwhile, had already announced that it would not comply with such a ban if it were enacted.

Unfortunately, the ban failed, and fishing will continue. CITES’s own press release, titled "Governments not ready for trade ban on bluefin tuna," is surprisingly candid about how this happened:

"Japan, Canada and several members States of the Arab league opposed the proposal arguing that regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) as ICCAT [the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas] were best placed to tackle the decline of bluefin tuna stocks. They added that an Appendix I listing [which would ban trade in the species] would not stop the fishing of the species. After a passionate but relatively short debate, the representative of Libya requested to close the deliberations and go for a vote. Iceland called for a secret ballot. The amendment introduced by the European Union and Monaco’s proposal were defeated (20 votes in favor, 68 against, 30 abstentions) in the middle of much confusion about the voting procedures and mixed feelings of satisfaction and frustration from participants."

Obviously, pro-tuna groups were not happy about this series of events. "It is scandalous that governments did not even get the chance to engage in meaningful debate about the international trade ban proposal for Atlantic bluefin tuna," said Sergi Tudela, head of fisheries for the WWF Mediterranean Programme Office, in a prepared statement.

Oceana, a conservation group devoted to the health of the oceans, called this "a clear win by short-term economic interest over the long-term health of the ocean and the rebuilding of Atlantic bluefin tuna populations." And Greenpeace International oceans campaigner Oliver Knowles stated, "The abject failure of governments here at CITES to protect Atlantic bluefin tuna spells disaster for its future and sets the species on a pathway to extinction."

We’ll be covering more CITES decisions—both good and bad—all week.

Image: Bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), via Wikipedia

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  1. 1. bahn 2:15 pm 03/23/2010

    Who will eat the last Atlantic bluefin tuna? It’s a race to the finish. Bravo, humanity.

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  2. 2. MCMalkemus 2:59 pm 03/23/2010

    I suppose after all the blue fin are gone, the Japanese will issue a national apology?

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  3. 3. candide 5:11 pm 03/23/2010

    Who eats more Tune, the U.S. or Japan?

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  4. 4. Grasshopper1 5:36 pm 03/23/2010

    Everyone- stop eating bluefin tuna.

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  5. 5. sodbuster 12:48 am 03/24/2010

    Stop dealing with these evil people!

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  6. 6. alf123 5:22 am 03/24/2010

    Let’s get rid of Japs from our country. They are evil and dangerous to our society. Stop selling any products to Japs and don’t buy anything from them.

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  7. 7. sodbuster 10:36 am 03/24/2010

    Expulsion of people of Japanese descent is not a worthy subject, Stopping the extinction of tuna, whales and many other rare and endangered species in my opinion is. This is the "Age of Extinction" all around us creatures are under threat because people are greedily fighting over "resources" on the land and in the sea. We need to punish them economically and if necessary physically protect these creatures from the evil and powerful around the world. No violence against people but no Toyota’s, no Sony’s, no travel to Japan and no exotic Sushi bars like the one in LA that was caught serving whale meat. We are really standing up for our children and their children’s children. It’s a noble, worthy cause and if you can’t take to the streets use your keyboard!

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  8. 8. Maureen 8:01 pm 03/25/2010

    How about coming up with a sollution that is workable for all persons involved, then be diplomatic in presenting it. Making this a win win situation is what is necessary. I sincerely hope,
    "get rid of Japs from our country", is a tongue in cheek joke. It seems more and more the world is turning to a mind set of hate and simplistic answers. The world is not populated by simplistic creatures, or haven’t some of you figured that out yet?

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  9. 9. irisrenaissance 10:49 pm 03/25/2010

    All people don’t want to lose what they have. That’s human nature. You are trying to blame one group for the problem of decreasing resources, when we are all at fault.
    You are just operating on instinct to find some group to blame, then have anger toward them, deprive them of resources, so that you may have more yourself. Your anger is the root of war and genocide.
    I’m not judging you, just telling you what I think about your post.

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  10. 10. PabloBell 7:20 pm 03/28/2010

    The USA together with China were the only ones who refused to reduce their carbon emissons not long ago. And that involves endangering ALL species on earth. These are the ones we should punish economically the most.

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  11. 11. Grasshopper1 3:57 pm 04/3/2010

    We shouldn’t "punish" anyone; we should try to find a way to protect bluefin tuna and other endangered creatures.

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  12. 12. Guardian54 5:00 pm 04/9/2010

    China: 1340 million people, 22% of world emissions
    America: 310 million people, 20% of world emissions
    Is it just me, or does something seem a little weird with America pointing fingers at China?

    Um, hello, so you expect the poor countries or regions not to try to reach a higher standard of living? Just because YOU, PabloBell, have a computer to use doesn’t mean everyone does.

    As for the Japs problem, buy your own nuclear attack sub and go hunt the whalers, or maybe buy a Russian-made Kilo-class sub, those are good, even though it’s diesel-electric.

    Either that, or bomb Japan’s government

    Of course, there is the option of informing the Japanese people of the truth, no one there knew about the Taiji dolphin slaughter, and no one there prbably knows about this, the f-ing governments are covering it all up.

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  13. 13. Grasshopper1 7:15 pm 04/9/2010

    I’ll say it again: we don’t have to "bomb", "punish", or "get rid of " anyone. We just need to protect the natural world.

    Educate people about endangered animals and conservation. Donate money to groups like the Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Conserve Earth’s natural resources.

    This is our planet. Make it last.

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  14. 14. mark ross 4:27 pm 08/29/2011


    re your recent article on the above, Please see attached flier

    I wrote a 400 page book last year of the heyday of Bluefin Tunny off Scarborough and South coast during 1930′s – 1950′s , when the world record was shattered and brought to UK in 1932 by Col. E.T Peel the first president of the British Tunny Club with a 798lb Tunny, beating previous world record holder and famous novelist American Zane Grey’s record by over 40lbs. book goes on to tell story of tunny and further record breaking fish in subsequent years and captors up to present time. The weight and sizes of these fish knock the recent catch off Dorset into oblivion – but show what sizes they can achieve if left alone to mature when they last appeared 70 years ago. Book also tells how perilously close we are to commercial extinction of this fish, particularly the larger sizes of which few now exist if fisherman still try to catch them.

    This book can be found on eBay UK Item number: 290603575521, direct from myself by email, or from the website advertised on the flier, or from Amazon, or from Hardy Tackle Shop Alnwick.

    Please feel free to publish your flier in your paper, or advertise book in your paper, I’ll happily sign book for anyone that buys a copy – This is strictly a limited edition of 250 standard copies at £89 each + £10 postage as a whopping A4 size 2kg book. The leather special edition is sold out – but there still are copies of the standard edition left.

    The book records all Tuna “Tunny” caught in this period and shows hundreds of pics of actual catches, and record fish and captors, and tells the reader what tackle was used – including pics, and how to catch them on rod and line.

    As i said this is a strictly limited edition so if anyone would like a copy pass on these details – but better be quick to ensure you get a copy.

    flier attached – please feel free to circulate!


    Mark Ross


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