CITES Update

The Atlantic bluefin tuna, which is at least threatened, if not critically endangered even to the most distant observing eye, is set on the path to certain collapse, thanks to a near 2-1 vote against suspension of fishing the species. Meanwhile,

In other business at CITES, six species of shark may yet be listed for closer trade regulation – though not an entire ban, says Elisabeth McLellan, manager of the species program for the World Wildlife Fund. Sharks are under increasing risk from “finning,” which has decimated their numbers in the wild.

“We still have hopes for regulating trade for the sharks,” she says. “At any meeting like this, you want the science to influence the debate, but of course politics is going to be there. It’s just a pity the science didn’t win this time for the bluefin tuna.”

Science should always be well ahead of politics in environmental matters, and the numbers are very clear that the decline in bluefin tuna stocks are in the 80-90% range since the middle of the last century. Even a few years’ suspension could stabilize the Eastern Atlantic populations, as we saw with the remarkable rebound of Chinook salmon over the last few years in the Pacific Northwest.

The Japanese want their sushi and the Chinese want their shark fins and tiger bones. But, neither want to manage the populations responsibly, and it’s almost as if they don’t really care if they go extinct. Like the “goddess of the Yangtze”, the baiji dolphin, which under Mao was purposefully eradicated after having been symbolic of the Chinese people for centuries.

It will be interesting to see how well off the tiger comes out of the ‘year of the tiger.’ As for the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (and by all indications at least a few of the shark species), it’s clear that temporary politics won out against long-term sustainable management.