Wednesday, March 24, 2010

31. UN Meeting Refuses to Protect Sharks

In another blow to the endangered marine species, the UN meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora rejected proposals by United States and Palau (a very small Micronesian island nation) that would have required countries to strictly regulate — but not ban — trade in several species of scalloped hammerhead, oceanic whitetip and spiny dogfish sharks. A proposal by the European Union to protect porbeagle sharks squeaked by with a vote of 86 to 42, with 8 abstentions — a winning margin of a single vote. It is expected that this decision will be reversed in a second vote later this week (for more detailed reporting see the New York Times article here).

China, the main consumer of the cartilaginous fish, for sharkfin soup, and Japan lead the opposition to any regulation of the trade in marine species. Large factory ships catch sharks cut their fins and throw the rest back in the ocean, resulting in cruel and painful death.

The elephants faired better as on Monday, delegates voted to uphold a 21-year ban on international trade in ivory, rejecting efforts by Tanzania and Zambia to sell part of their stocks. Last week, the conference opposed an outright ban on international trade in blue fin tuna and to protect the polar bear. A proposal to extend trade controls to red and pink corals was also voted down.

“We will continue to pursue our efforts to protect sharks from eradication by the decadent and cruel process of shark-finning,” Stuart Beck, Palau’s ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement. “I am sure that, properly prepared, bald eagle is delicious. But, as civilized people, we simply do not eat it.”

It is clear that more powerful counties such as China and Japan can successfully block regulation of trade in marine species that are culturally in high demand and are lucrative business for them (e.g., a bluefin tuna is sold for around $10,000). Tanzania and Zambia that were proposing a one-time sale of their storage of ivory could not get enough votes. The same UN group has a 21 year ban on trade in ivory although there is poaching to meet the black market demand, mostly from Asia.

The proposal by Tanzania said: “Rural people do not tolerate the presence of elephants unless the costs of living with elephants can be offset by economic benefits derived from elephants.” (for more detailed reporting see here)

The Zambian proposal argued that “The primary risk to the long-term survival of the elephant in Zambia is not international trade but increasing conflicts with legitimate human interests such as agriculture as shown by the rising number of human-elephant conflicts.”

“But conservationists in the United States, Europe and other parts of Africa had argued that Tanzania and Zambia had not adequately combated poaching of elephants and the illegal ivory market, where the price of ivory has risen more than sevenfold since 2004 to as much as $1,500 now, according to The Associated Press.”

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