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

No Waves of Hope

Air Date: Week of

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in Doha, Qatar has wrapped up. The outcome was anything but positive for marine conservation--with all measures on sharks, coral and the Atlantic bluefin tuna defeated. Host Jeff Young talks with Susan Lieberman of the Pew Environment Group about what happened at the CITES meeting and about future steps for protecting marine species.


YOUNG: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts — this is Living on Earth. I’m Jeff Young. A missed opportunity to protect some of the sea’s most threatened animals. The 15th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, just wrapped up in Doha, Qatar. The UN-organized body sets rules for the global sales of products made from rare animals. The agenda included several marine species—Atlantic bluefin tuna, some sharks and corals—that scientists warn are in deep trouble.

Susan Lieberman monitored the CITES meeting for the Pew Environment Group, where she directs international policy. And she joins us now from Doha. Ms. Lieberman, welcome to Living on Earth.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you.

YOUNG: So, what happened or, I guess, did not happen with these marine animals?

LIEBERMAN: It was actually a very sad day or a sad two weeks for conservation here at Doha, at the Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species. What didn’t happen is increased protection for Atlantic bluefin tuna and six species of sharks who desperately need that protection.

YOUNG: What does the science tell us about the status of the bluefin and these sharks?

LIEBERMAN: Well, that’s what really interesting and in particularly disappointing because the science was strong, and in fact, there was no debate on the science. The Atlantic bluefin tuna has declined more than 85 percent, that means there’s less than 15 percent left due to excessive fishing mainly due to the demand for sushi and sashimi, as well as due to over-fishing and rampant illegal fishing, as well. The science was clear. Monaco had submitted a proposal, the United States, the European Union, Norway—many other countries going into the meeting had supported it due to very intensive negative lobbying led by Japan.

It was defeated. In addition there were the proposals for the sharks, all of which were not for a trade ban, but they were proposals to regulate and manage the trade just to make sure it’s sustainable, just to have some level of control. The science was also sound there. The hammerhead shark, for example, is an endangered species and it’s been reduced in some areas more than 90 percent. Yet at the end of the day the majority supported it, but not the two-thirds required to get the protection needed for that shark.

YOUNG: So what does this mean, now, for the Atlantic bluefin and these species of sharks?

LIEBERMAN: Well, for the sharks it means that after the CITES meeting there is the same level of international protection there was before the meeting—and that’s zero. What it means is on the high seas there’s no control about the numbers taken of hammerhead sharks for example, or oceanic white tips. We know up to 73 million sharks of many species are killed every year for the fin trade. And right now there’s absolutely no international regulation or control of that trade.

YOUNG: And for the bluefin, where as I understand it the situation is quite dire, is there any other regulatory body that might act here?

Dr. Sue Lieberman (Courtesy of Pew Environment Group)

LIEBERMAN: Yes, the Atlantic bluefin tuna is managed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna, that’s more than 40 countries; it’s a treaty that gets together every year to manage this fish. They have been a dismal failure at managing this fish, and that’s not a quote from me that’s their own internal review. And the members of CITES—the Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species—basically decided to give the fish back to that commission, that International Commission for Atlantic Tunas, and say, it’s your fish and you have the responsibility to manage it.

YOUNG: So, the more valuable the species, the harder it is to get a body like this to act, but also the greater the demand for the animal. Is there anyway out for the bluefin tuna or is it going to be fished right into extinction?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I certainly hope—and we certainly hope—that the bluefin tuna will not be fished into extinction. The bluefin tuna crashed in Brazil in the 1950s and that’s why this International Commission for Conservation of Atlantic Tuna—ICCAT—was invented. They made promises here to finally listen to science for the first time instead of always assigning quotas higher than the scientists recommended. And the United States delegate here said, if ICCAT doesn’t do what it promised, then we will be back at the next CITES meeting.

So at least the Atlantic bluefin tuna has ICCAT to hope for, the sharks have nothing to hope for though the sharks are extremely valuable economically. They’re also valuable ecologically in the ocean and that’s why we’re going to work with governments who do support conservation to turn the tide here and hopefully at the next CITES meeting provide the protection necessary.

YOUNG: So what is this tell us about the usefulness of the CITES process. I mean, I understand in the past they’ve taken important action to limit trade in ivory, and rhino horn, and things like that, but what about this?

LIEBERMAN: Well, it is very disappointing and I don’t want to give the impression that there are no marine species listed in CITES. All the hard coral are listed, the Queen conch—people may be familiar with that species—all the seahorses, the sturgeon (they provide caviar) are regulated by CITES. But for highly commercial marine species such as the shark, such as the tuna, such as the red and pink coral, this is a setback for their conservation. But I believe firmly that CITES is the only international mechanism out there that can regulate trade in these species.

And trade is the number one threat to these species. If you look at the sharks: it’s not climate change, it’s trade. It’s trade demand; it’s demand for their fins on the uncontrolled international markets. So I don’t want to say CITES is a failure. This conference did not succeed in providing the protections necessary to those species. But I firmly believe that there’s a chance in the future.

YOUNG: Susan Lieberman with the Pew Environment Group, thank you very much.

LIEBERMAN: My pleasure, thank you!



CITES website

Click here to learn more about the Pew Environment Group’s marine conservation campaigns.


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