Monday, 8 March 2010

Deal could be struck to protect bluefin tuna and African elephant

Ben Webster, Environment Editor

Two of the world’s most iconic endangered species, the bluefin tuna and African elephant, could be protected under a backroom deal being negotiated between Europe and Africa.
New rules restricting international trade in endangered species will be debated at a meeting of 175 countries beginning next week in Doha, Qatar. Europe wants to protect dwindling stocks of bluefin tuna and most African states want to prevent the sale of stockpiles of ivory to Japan and China.
The proposals will need a two-thirds majority to be approved at the conference on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), from March 13 to 25. Delegates will be trying to secure enough votes to overcome opposition from nations that either profit from the trade in the species or import them.
Japan consumes three quarters of the world’s bluefin tuna and a single fish can sell for as much as $110,000 (£72,600) at Tokyo’s fish market. Stocks of bluefin have fallen by 80 per cent in the past 30 years and wildlife groups and many nations, including Britain, believe the remaining populations are close to collapsing.

The African elephant is already protected under trade rules but black market prices of $1,200 (£790) a kilo (2.2lb) are fuelling an increase in poaching. The elephant population in the Zakouma National Park in Chad has fallen from 3,885 in 2006 to 617 in 2009 because of poaching.
A coalition of 23 African states has written to Britain and other EU members asking for their help in blocking a proposal from Tanzania and Zambia to sell 110 tonnes of ivory. Some of the 23 states sold ivory in 2008 but are unable to sell any more. A loophole in international rules could permit Tanzania and Zambia to make a one-off sale.
Britain believes that selling the stockpiled ivory would fuel demand in the Far East and lead to more poaching. Other EU states are considering supporting the sale because it could raise money for conservation in Tanzania and Zambia.
The letter, a copy of which has been obtained by The Times, hints that the African nations would support the EU’s proposal for a ban on trade in bluefin tuna in return for the 27 EU members voting against the ivory sale.
The letter requests a meeting on the sidelines of the Doha meeting so that the African countries can “learn of the issues that may be of a high priority for you at the conference”.
It also contains a veiled threat that the 23 African countries would block proposals for protecting other endangered species unless the EU supports their position on the ivory sale.
It says a “successful conservation outcome” for ivory would “allow Cites to address other issues and other species”.
Tigers, polar bears and sharks are the other high-profile species on which the EU and the US are seeking to tighten the trade rules at Doha.
Britain is seeking a ban on so-called “tiger farms”, where the animals are intensively bred in captivity. The concern is that the existence of the farms in China, Vietnam and Thailand is encouraging demand for tiger to be used in medicines. This in turn results in poaching, threatening the dwindling wild tiger population.
The US is calling for polar bears to be listed on appendix I of at the convention, which would ban all international trade in the animals except for conservation purposes. While Britain supports the US proposal, other EU members believe a trade ban would anger indigenous communities in the Arctic that depend on the trade in polar bear skins and trophies. These communities currently co-operate with conservation programmes.
The EU has proposed that porbeagle sharks and the spiny dogfish (rock salmon) are listed on appendix II. Species in this category can still be traded but permits must be obtained.
The EU will vote as a bloc on each of the proposals after using qualified majority voting to agree its position.
Some European countries that profit from the bluefin tuna trade, including Spain, France, Italy and Malta, want small-scale fishing to be exempt from the proposed ban. Britain opposes this because it would allow up to 40 per cent of the trade to continue, only delaying the collapse of tuna stocks.