No appetite for tuna at CITES
Bluefin tuna are highly valued, being especially prized
for use in sashimi in Japan which is the main trade destination for
bluefin catches. Atlantic bluefin tuna have been the object of
polarised views on whether the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species (CITES) has a role in regulating
international trade in commercially exploited marine fish.
A proposal made by Monaco to the 15th Conference of
the Parties to CITES in Doha in March would have banned commercial
trade in bluefin tuna in an attempt to enable stocks to recover.
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic
Tuna (ICCAT), the fisheries body responsible for their management,
is widely viewed to have failed to conserve stocks by setting
quotas at levels which exceeded those advised by scientists. In
turn, these quotas were routinely exceeded by fishermen with, at
times, the legal and illegal catches estimated as being comparable
in size to one another.
JNCC, as part of the UK delegation, advised
Defra on these and other proposals to the Conference of the Parties
in our role as UK CITES Scientific Authority for animals. Our view
that bluefin tuna met the CITES listing criteria was endorsed by
ICCAT’s own scientific committee. Both the west and east Atlantic
bluefin populations are almost certain to have fallen to below 15%
of their estimated biomass before fisheries began, with an
associated risk of stock collapse. Despite UK support for the
proposal and an EU attempt at finding a compromise, the Conference
voted strongly against listing bluefin tuna. It now falls to ICCAT
to fulfil its responsibilities to enable stocks to recover; in
November 2009 it adopted revised management plans. But this is not
the first time that bluefin tuna have been considered by CITES – a
listing proposal by Sweden in 1992 was withdrawn because ICCAT was
committed then to re-building stocks.
Ultimately, the Conference did not list any
marine species. Other proposals to list several species of sharks
and red corals in CITES also failed and the relationship between
CITES and commercial fisheries management remains controversial.
Accordingly, JNCC plans this year to look in more detail at the
role of CITES in regulating trade in commercially exploited fish
and invertebrates. By exploring where, if and how CITES might best
complement fisheries management it may help to avoid the
polarisation which has characterised recent debates.