Saturday, 13 February 2010

Bluefin Tuna- a chance for surivival?

What is CITES?

CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. It is an international agreement between governments to ensure that international trade of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival in the wild. This threat is due to various sources including food, medicine, pet collection, timber, musical instruments, furniture, clothes and others.

Today, CITES protects more than 30,000 species according to varying degrees of protection.

CITES is legally binding on parties but does not take the place of national laws. It now has 175 parties including Malta.

CITES Appendices

International trade of threatened species is subjected to certain controls. Thus import and exports and all other forms of trade are regulated for these species.

A species may fall within one of three appendices formulated by CITES.

Appendix I includes species which are threatened with extinction and trade is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.

Appendix II includes species which are not necessarily threatened with extinction but trade must be controlled so that their survival is not threatened.

Appendix III contains species which are protected in, at least, one country and which has asked CITES parties for assistance in controlling the trade of this species.

The Bluefin Tuna saga

The bluefin tuna is a fish which is also found in the Mediterranean sea. For many years fishermen have caught this fish, brought it to tuna farms to fatten the fish, and then sell the fattened tuna. Malta is one of the main sites for tuna farming and thousands of tonnes of tuna is exported each year locally to Japan for their sushi market. A single bluefin tuna sells at approximately 125,000 euros sometimes and as the species becomes rarer, the price will get higher and higher. Last year Malta exported 86.3 million euros worth of bluefin tuna- nearly 2% of the GDP.

The bluefin tuna stocks are in dire need of help and are on the verge of collapse. This is because the species is massively overfished and the rate of catch of this fish is higher than the rate at which this species can reproduce. This overfishing is due to massive fleets of ships, using very high-tech equipment catching astronomical amounts of tuna. Add to this the rampant illegal fishing for this resource and you’ll find out that the rate of decline of this fish is a really serious issue. This is not only a concern for environmentalists but also for the fishermen themselves as they have themselves admitted that the effort to catch the same amount of fish as a few years ago has increased. This means that these fishermen’s sons will no longer be able to catch this fish and the sushi we, and especially the people from the Land of the Rising Sun, so much enjoy will be compromised.

The EU’s position

Last September, the European Commission has suggested that tuna should be included in Appendix I of the CITES convention when the parties meet next March. This would practically mean the end of its export and thus a huge blow for countries which are economically dependent on this fish’s market. But this recommended ban was shot down by Mediterranean countries with a stake in the trade- Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Spain, France and Italy.

The ex- environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas was at loggerheads with the fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg because the latter didn’t support the ban and favored a more restricted catch with reduced quotas for each party.

Since then both Italy and France dropped their objection to the ban and the rest of the countries lost the blocking minority which was holding the EU from adopting the position of a tuna trade ban next March when the CITES parties meet.

The vote at the European Parliament

On the 10th of February, the European Parliament discussed whether the EU should support the inclusion of tuna in Appendix I.

The Maltese MEPs argued against the proposition. Simon Busuttil argued that neither the fishermen nor the tuna stocks should suffer. He argues in favour of having stricter controls without a total ban on tuna trade. He also proposed to insert tuna under CITES’ Appendix II. Edward Scicluna also argues in favour of putting the bluefin tuna under Appenix II. He asked for common sense and proportionality since the ban on tuna trade would cost Malta close to 2% of its GDP.

The original resolution was amended. Amendment 7/rev changed the resolution and added that the following four criteria must be applied if tuna is going to be banned under Appendix I. These four criteria are:

(i) the deferral for 18 months of the tuna’s entry into Appendix I. Thus tuna would still be able to be caught and traded for the next 18 months;

(ii) tuna can still be caught for the local trade;

(iii) the EU must provide financial support for seafarers and vessel owners affected by this ban;

(iv) tighter controls and tougher penalties to combat illegal and unreported fishing.

This amendment was adopted with Simon Busuttil, Edward Scicluna and John Attard Montalto voting in favour while David Casa and Louis Grech not voting.

The resolution, including the above text was adopted and so now the EU will support the inclusion of the bluefin tuna in Appendix I.

This doesn’t mean that tuna will definitely be included in this Appendix as this must be decided next March when the CITES parties meet. Japan will surely object strongly to the proposal. But this means that the EU, a key player in these talks, will support the ban.

Other species

In this resolution the EU also supports the following, amongst others:

- the inclusion of a number of shark species in CITES Appendix II;

- the transfer of the polar bear from Appendix II to Appendix I;

- the inclusion of an annotation for African elephants preventing any future proposals to trade ivory or to downlist the species from Appendix I to Appendix II;

Species the EU is seeking to protect (comments in brackets include those species for which the EU is seeking more protection and which are related to the species pictured but which a picture of the species per se is not included):

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