United Nations Rejects Ban on Bluefin Tuna Exports and International Polar Bear Trade


Yesterday, on March 18th, 2010, the United Nations rejected a proposal to ban export of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna. This U.S.-backed proposal was defeated after major lobbying by the Japanese. Japan imports 80 percent of Bluefin Tuna, and claimed that a ban on the fish would devastate its economy and the economies of other, poorer nations.

Stocks of Atlantic bluefin tuna are down 75 percent, due largely to the Japanese sushi market. Fishing nations in Africa, Asian, Latin America and the Caribbean worried that any ban would damage their fishing markets and that fears of the tuna stock’s collapse were overstated.

“It’s pretty irresponsible of the governments to hear the science and ignore the science,” said Susan Lieberman, director of international policy with the Pew Environment Group in DC. “Clearly, there was pressure from the fishing interests. The fish is too valuable for its own good.”

From the moment the proposal was presented, it was clear that there was not much support. Only the United States, Norway and Kenya supported the proposal outright. The European Union asked that its implementation be delayed until May 2011, so that authorities had time to respond to concerns about overfishing.

Japan has acknowledged that tuna stocks are in trouble, but stated that the UN should have no role in regulating the species. Japan expressed a willingness to accept lower quotas for bluefin tuna. However, a similar tuna ban was withdrawn in 1992 under the condition that fishing nations would improve their practices. Since then, tuna numbers have still plummeted.

The UN’s decision on bluefin tuna came just hours after after delegates rejected a U.S. proposal to ban the international sale of polar bear skins and parts. The U.S. argued that the sale of polar bear skins is exacerbating the loss of the bear’s sea ice habitat due to climate change.

“There is virtually no controversy in the scientific community that rapid global warming is threatening the polar bear and rampant overharvesting is threatening the bluefin tuna,” said John Kostyack, NWF’s Executive Director of Wildlife Conservation and Global Warming. “Yet for some nations and some industries, it is difficult to confront this reality because it threatens short-term profits. Thankfully in this case the U.S. government was on the side of sound science and looking out for our children and grandchildren, who always pay the price for our shortsighted behavior.”

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Published: March 19, 2010