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Global Conference Rejects Bluefin Tuna Trade Ban

(CN) - Fishing countries defeated an American-supported proposal to ban international trade in bluefin tuna. As the largest consumer of the fish, Japan spearheaded the effort to scuttle listing of the species at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

A March 18 meeting in Doha, Qatar, resulted in a vote of 68 to 20 against the ban, with European Union countries abstaining after a failed amendment to delay enforcement of the original proposal.

Mediterranean city-state Monaco had proposed the ban in light of dramatic declines due to overfishing. The proposal cited a 74 percent decrease in eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean stocks since 1957, while western Atlantic stocks have declined 82 percent over the past four decades.

Although an international commission regulates Atlantic bluefin tuna fishing, the commission's advice has not been implemented, largely because it lacks an enforcement mechanism.

The 27-member European Union failed to pass a temporary ban on bluefin fishing last year after a veto by half a dozen Mediterranean countries: Malta, Cyprus, Spain, Italy, France and Greece. That proposal had included special consideration for "artisanal fishing vessels," as large-scale industrial fishing poses the greatest threat to the fish.

If passed this March, the CITES proposal would have protected all bluefin tuna under the most stringent appendix of the treaty, implementing a near-total ban on international trade.

The European Commission expressed disappointment with the CITES vote, stating, "If action is not taken, there is a very serious danger that the bluefin tuna will no longer exist." The World Wildlife Federation has predicted that without protection, the species could go extinct within a few years.

The March meeting in Doha also failed to result in international trade protections for the polar bear. Greenland and Canada, among others, argued that the polar bear population is healthy enough to sustain trade for its pelt and other body parts.Environmentalists contend that the bear, which has gained threatened status in the United States, will be harmed by climate change.

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