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No trade ban for declining bluefin tuna

Efforts to halt the decline of Atlantic bluefin tuna received a blow Thursday, as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species voted against a trade ban.

By Staff writer / March 18, 2010

At a fish market in Jersey City, N.J., a bluefin tuna waits to be cut into pieces and distributed to New York's top sushi restaurants. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the only UN body with the power to ban trade in endangered animals and plants, has rejected a trade ban on bluefin tuna, whose numbers have been sharply declining.

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Efforts to ban international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna sank like a stone Thursday, disappointing both the US and environmentalists and raising doubts about whether the delectable fish can survive in the long term.

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Defying expectations, delegates at the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meeting in Doha, Qatar, declined to approve a trade ban.

Scientific surveys have shown the Atlantic bluefin tuna to be in sharp decline, and supporters of a ban said they had sensed an international consensus building around the need to take action.

The ban's failure prompted some dire predictions from those who have been lobbying for action.

“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," Greenpeace spokesman Oliver Knowles said in a statement.

US officials, too, were unhappy about the outcome, though they vowed to try to protect the bluefin through regulatory means. "Some procedural aspects of [the bluefin meeting] were disappointing," Jane Lyder, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks and acting head of the US delegation, acknowledged to reporters in a teleconference Thursday.

Outmaneuvered?

US officials and other pro-ban delegates appeared to be caught off guard during debate when Libya's representative, shouting and waving his arms, interrupted to complain about the problems such a trade ban would cause. After several minutes, he quieted and called for a vote.

With the US and delegates from the European Union not on one page about how soon to begin a ban, and with discussion cut short, their trade ban proposals were each voted down.

The ban's opponents won support among developing nations, which seemed receptive to the argument that major economic damage would result if a ban were adopted, said David Allison, a senior campaigner with Oceana, who was in the hall at the time and who described the sequence of events in a phone interview with the Monitor. His account was corroborated by phone by others in attendance.

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