Deal Offered to Protect Elephants

An elephant bull drinks water in a swamp at the Kruger National Park in South Africa, Friday, June 1, 2007. Late-night talks among African states failed to break a stalemate on whether to ease a worldwide ban on ivory sales imposed 18 years ago to rescue shrinking elephant herds from poachers, officials said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)[ AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam

This article was written by Discover'sSmriti Rao.

Sushi chefs in Japan are keeping a close eye on Doha, Qatar this week as delegates at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) debate the future of their beloved bluefin tuna. The fish, a delicacy in Japan that can sell for more than $100,000 apiece, is being overfished, and convention delegates aim to prevent the tuna from becoming extinct altogether. The proposal on the table: A complete ban on international trade of the fish to allow stocks to regenerate.

The bluefin tuna ban was proposed by Monaco, and the vote will probably come up next week. Japan has already dispatched a delegation to Doha with the message that Japan won't comply with a total ban, and would instead prefer a fishing quota. But quotas have failed to help the depleted bluefin tuna stocks thus far. Japan last year pledged to help meet an accord to slash the total catch in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean by 40 percent, although environmental groups charge that such quotas are routinely exceeded.

The European Union and the United States have come out in support of a total ban, since decades of overfishing has caused the number of bluefin in the Atlantic and Mediterranean to crash by more than two-thirds. Japan, meanwhile, hopes to fend off the ban by enlisting the support of developing nations in Africa and Latin America. Tokyo said that even if a ban is implemented, it could use a treaty technicality to opt out of the agreement by expressing "reservations," and would then continue to import from other countries.

Meanwhile, at the world's largest fishing market in Tokyo's Tsukiji district, bluefish tuna fishermen began collecting signatures to oppose the ban. They said measures to prevent overfishing of the tuna should be implemented instead.

Traders also fear a steep price hike for the bluefin, known as "kuro maguro" or black tuna in Japan. A piece of "otoro" or fatty underbelly now costs 2,000 yen (22 dollars) at high-end Tokyo restaurants.

The other bitter battle being played out at the CITES meeting is Zambia's and Tanzania's proposal for a one-time sale of ivory, so that they may clean out their stockpiles of ivory-collected, they say, from elephants who died natural deaths. So far, the proposal has been resisted by countries like Kenya that argue that such sales give cover to poachers who engage in "ivory-laundering," and would increase poaching in the region.

Zambia and Tanzania both insist that they will funnel the $18.5 million they expect to earn from the sale into conservation efforts, but that claim has been met with skepticism. A recent report in the journal Science revealed a sharp increase in poaching in recent years-with much of the ivory trafficking running through Zambia and Tanzania.

Kenya and its allies have proposed supporting a bluefin tuna ban in exchange for greater protection for the elephants. However, this horse trading is viewed as controversial: Conservationists argue that every proposal should rise or fall on the basic of scientific evidence detailing the possible extinction of individual species, not as part of a political deal

By Smriti Rao
Reprinted with permission from Discover

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