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CITES Turns Down Protections for Polar Bear, Bluefin Tuna
DOHA, Qatar, March 18, 2010 (ENS) - International trade in polar bear parts and products will not be restricted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, delegates from 175 countries decided today.

Nor did the delegates agree on any measures to protect endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna.

Governments attending the triennial CITES general assembly in Doha did vote to maintain trade controls on skins of the American bobcat.

A proposal from the United States would have banned the international commercial trade in polar bear parts and products.

A majority of governments, led by Canada, rejected the proposal because they were not convinced about the conservation benefits of banning trade in a species already included in CITES Appendix II, which permits trade only under a strict permit system.

They recognized the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples living in the harsh conditions of the Arctic sea and the role of polar bears in their culture and economy. "We do not have trees, we do not have plants to cultivate, we only have the polar bears," said a representative of the Inuvialuit hunters present in Doha.

Wildlife conservation and animal protection organizations say they are disturbed by the decision not to protect the polar bear. If approved, the groups say the ban would have kept at least 3,000 polar bears out of commercial trade over the next decade at a time when the species is increasingly threatened by loss of habitat due to global climate change.

Canadian polar bear skin rug sells for about $8,000. (Photo courtesy Bear Skin World)

"We are deeply disappointed that the CITES Parties did not supported this vital proposal," said Dr. Teresa Telecky, director of wildlife for Humane Society International and executive director of the Species Survival Network.

"A ban on the commercial trade in polar bear parts and products, such as bear skin rugs, would have helped to reduce pressures on populations already threatened by habitat loss through climate change," she said. "Today's decision may put the last nail in the coffin for the polar bear."

The conservation groups say climate change is destroying the polar bear's sea ice habitat at such a rate that its population is predicted to decline by two-thirds by 2050. Polar bears cannot survive without sea ice, from which they hunt seals, their main prey.

In 2009, eight out of 19 polar bear populations were determined to be declining, only one was categorized as increasing; three were viewed as stable and the status of the remaining seven was unknown or data deficient.

On top of the major threat of climate change, polar bears are killed to supply the international commercial trade in their parts and products such as polar bear skin rugs.

In Canada alone 689 polar bears are legally killed each year. The parts and products of an average of 300 of these polar bears are exported annually.

Greenland also exported polar bear parts and products for commercial purposes until 2008 when a temporary moratorium on exports was established. Despite the moratorium, Greenland continues to permit hunting of 130 polar bears per year, which may enter international trade in the future. The other range states, the United States, Norway and the Russian Federation, prohibit the international commercial trade in polar bear parts and products.

The European Union is the largest importer of polar bear parts, importing 65 percent of those traded for commercial purposes over the last 10 years; this includes 775 skins and 1,279 skin pieces.

The EU has recognized the impact of commercial trade by banning imports of polar bear specimens from two populations in Canada because the authorities could not demonstrate that take levels were sustainable. It so far has failed to stop imports from five other declining Canadian populations, the conservation groups say.

Giant bluefin caught about 180 miles south of New Orleans February 2010. (Photo by TreeBeard)

Two slightly different proposals, by Monaco and by the European Union, to ban commercial trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna so the depleted species can recover were turned down by CITES delegates.

The vote followed several days of aggressive lobbying from the Japanese, who take close to 80 percent of the catch Atlantic Bluefin for consumption as sushi.

The European Commission, which had united all 27 EU member states behind the ban proposal, expressed disappointment.

Calling the proposal "a strong commitment towards a sustainable future for the bluefin tuna and for fishermen," EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik and Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki said, "We remain convinced that stringent measures are needed to ensure the recovery of Atlantic bluefin tuna."

"If action is not taken, there is a very serious danger that the bluefin tuna will no longer exist," the commissioners said.

"After overwhelming scientific justification and growing political support in past months - with backing from the majority of catch quota holders on both sides of the Atlantic - it is scandalous that governments did not even get the chance to engage in meaningful debate about the international trade ban proposal for Atlantic bluefin tuna," said Dr. Sergi Tudela, head of fisheries at WWF Mediterranean and an observer at the CITES conference.

Greenpeace International oceans campaigner Oliver Knowles said at the conference, "The abject failure of governments here at CITES to protect Atlantic bluefin tuna spells disaster for its future and sets the species on a pathway to extinction."

"The failure of countries to support proper protection for Atlantic bluefin tuna means business as usual for those whose only interest in the species is short-term profit," said Knowles.

Speaking from Halifax, Greenpeace Canada oceans campaigner Sarah King said, "Today is a day of mourning. Earlier today, Greenpeace activists formed a funeral procession at a Sobeys supermarket to mourn the loss of the Atlantic cod, an iconic species on the east coast."

"Almost at the same moment, governments around the world doomed Atlantic bluefin tuna to a similar fate when they turned down proposals to protect the seriously endangered species," said King.

The northwest Atlantic cod was regarded as heavily overfished throughout its range, resulting in a crash in the fishery in the United States and Canada during the early 1990s. The cod have failed to recover even with the cessation of fishing.

Dr. Tudela says WWF is asking restaurants, retailers, chefs and consumers around the world to stop selling, serving, buying and eating Atlantic bluefin. Already a growing body of the global seafood market sector is choosing to avoid eating this fish to give the species a chance at recovery.

He said, "It is now more important than ever for people to do what the politicians failed to do - stop consuming bluefin tuna."

At a news conference Thursday, the head of the Japanese delegation to the CITES meeting, Masanori Miyahara, together with Ambassador Patrick Van Klaveren from Monaco and Mohamed Saeed Al-Mohannadi from Qatar recognized that the bluefin tuna stocks are depleted and jointly declared that now is time for the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas to be effective.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.



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