The European Commission is set to throw its weight behind a near-total trade ban in bluefin tuna in a bid to save the fish from serious decline in the Mediterranean.
The Commission will also call for restrictions on trade in porbeagle and spiny dogfish sharks, and tougher protection for Asian tigers, as well as announcing its opposition to a one-off sale of ivory with the aim of protecting African elephants from poaching.
This is the basis of the Commission’s proposed negotiating plan for a major international conservation summit in March, at which around 175 countries are expected to take part. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) takes place in Doha on 13-25 March and will consider the fate of around 40 endangered species. A weighted majority of EU member states must now agree the EU position.
The European commissioner for environment, Janez Potocnik, and his collleague in charge of maritime affairs and fisheries, Maria Damanaki, will present the proposal on Monday (22 February), bringing an end to weeks of wrangling between their departments over bluefin tuna.
In one of her first acts as a commissioner, Damanaki last week dropped her department’s opposition to listing bluefin tuna under CITES annex 1, the highest possible level of protection, which amounts to a near-total trade ban. The U-turn came after Commission President José Manuel Barroso urged Damanaki and Potoc?nik to resolve the dispute.
The smallprint of the agreement is still being decided. Damanaki wants to secure an exemption for artisanal fishing crews and discussions are ongoing over how this should be defined. This is a complicated question, say officials, because different member states have different definitions of artisanal crews.
The introduction of a CITES listing may also be delayed until November, allowing tuna crews one more summer of fishing. Further meetings on the issue are expected to take place today and tomorrow.
Stocks of Mediterranean bluefin tuna, a sushi staple, have plummeted since the 1960s.
A question mark also remains over whether the Commission will propose a ban on trade in polar bears. This could prove controversial for some member states, because, they argue, the biggest threat to the 20-25,000 polar bears left is the melting of Arctic ice, not the relatively small trade in skins.
There is firmer agreement in the Commission on stronger protection for marine life. The Commission wants porbeagle sharks and their spiny dogfish cousins added to CITES appendix II, where trade is permitted under tightly controlled conditions. The EU is likely to support proposals from the US to add hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks to the same list.
Better protection for tigers is also high on the Commission’s priority list. Trade in tigers is already banned under CITES, but the Commission thinks that Asian countries are not doing enough to stop poaching or clamp down on illegal trade.
It is estimated that 100,000 tigers once lived in Asia, but fewer than 3,500 tigers remain in the wild, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
The EU’s interest in bluefin tuna, sharks and tigers means that Europe is likely to clash with Asian countries, who are big consumers of tuna and shark fins, and use tiger parts in traditional medicine.
The Commission wants to try again to get red and pink corals added to the CITES list, a move that failed to win support at the last CITES conference, in March 2007, and could prove to be controversial among EU member states.
Officials in the Council of Ministers have been waiting for the Commission to decide on its position and hope to agree on the proposals without having a full ministerial discussion.
The next scheduled meeting of environment ministers, on 15 March, is two days after the CITES conference begins.
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