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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Species Preservation

Air Date: Week of

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Host Steve Curwood speaks with BBC reporter Peter Greste about the continuing debates at the conference on the Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species in Santiago, Chile.


CURWOOD: Elephants, whales and mahogany. The fate of these species, and others, is being debated at the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, now underway in Santiago, Chile. At issue: the levels of protection provided for certain plants and animals. These appendix classifications, as they're called, can have significant impact on regulating trade. Joining me is Peter Greste, a BBC reporter covering the negotiations. He says the hottest topic is a proposal for a one-time sale of ivory stockpiles, followed by a limited quota on ivory sales each year.

GRESTE: There are those that are saying that ivory should be allowed to be traded if there are sustainable populations. And there are a number of southern African states, and South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Namibia for example, who are all saying that they have sustainable populations, they have the stockpiles of ivory, and they need the cash, and there is no reason why they shouldn't be allowed to profit from those stockpiles of ivory and plow those profits back into their resources.

But there are others that are saying that the populations might be sustainable in those southern African states, but they're certainly not sustainable in other parts of Africa, and certainly not in Asia. The fear is that if you open up the ivory trade, you create a market, you create a demand, an unsustainable demand, that will be met, ultimately, by uncontrolled poaching.

CURWOOD: I want to ask you about whales. The Japanese want to allow limited trade in two species of whales. What's been the response to that request so far?

GRESTE: A rather mixed response. There are a number of states, again, who are saying, who are talking very strongly about sustainable use; who are saying that if we have a resource and we have the numbers and we have the controls, there is no reason why we shouldn't be exploiting that, those resources. The Japanese have been arguing very, very strongly for that, and they've been saying that the whale stocks of the minke whale, in particular, are now at around a million animals; there are a million minke whales according to their numbers.

Just the numbers, though, are being hotly disputed. There are plenty of people who are, plenty of environmentalists, in particular, who are saying that those figures are grossly inflated. They're also saying, the environmentalists in a number of countries still opposed to whaling, are also saying that the controls are simply not in place.

CURWOOD: Now, the Convention on the International Trade on Endangered Species, CITES, has not yet gotten seriously involved in commercial species, except, I guess, this year I see that there are questions being raised about mahogany and the Patagonian tooth fish, which appears on tables in the United States as the Chilean sea bass. They're both up for increased protection. What argument is there for greater protection of these species?

GRESTE: The people who are supporting the application say that there is uncontrolled poaching in a lot of cases, illegal fishing, and that in order to protect these species, in order to stop them slipping from, into the endangered list, there needs to be an adequately, a well-enforceable permit system to regulate and control the trade in these species. And that's why they're arguing very strongly to put both mahogany and the Patagonian tooth fish onto Appendix two.

CURWOOD: Who objects to this, and why?

GRESTE: Well, the Chileans aren't particularly impressed with it, Japanese aren't, and an awful lot of other major fishing nations are particularly concerned about it. Because they all have big industrial fisheries of their own, who are all putting a lot of pressure on other species; the North Sea cod, for example, or the yellow fin tuna, and they all have very strong domestic lobbies who are arguing against regulation.

There are a couple of reasons. One of them is the implication that by listing something in the CITES Appendix two, you are labeling it as "endangered" and, therefore, members of the public would feel particularly uncomfortable about eating, about having a fish that's considered endangered on their dinner plates.

There is also, I think, the principle of sovereignty here. A lot of those fishing industries say that we can adequately control our own fishing industries. We don't need an international body like CITES to tell us what to do.

CURWOOD: Most of these decisions won't be made until November 15, but what are you hearing about how things might come out?

GRESTE: There are a whole range of issues. Obviously, there are almost 60 proposals on the table at the moment. There is an awful lot of horse trading which could skew a lot of these debates, and a lot of these proposals, the voting on these proposals. Just how much of an influence that has on the final outcome is difficult to say, but my instincts are, for example, that whaling will not go through. I suspect that mahogany might make it onto the CITES II listing. I'm not so convinced about the Patagonian tooth fish because I think there are a lot of other political interests that might skew that particular vote.
On ivory, too close to call, I'm afraid. I think it's one of those things that we'll simply have to wait and see.

CURWOOD: Peter Greste is a reporter with the BBC, speaking to us from Santiago, Chile, during the meeting of the Convention of the International Trade in Endangered Species. Thanks so much.

GRESTE: And a pleasure.



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