Sayonara to Tuna

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On Thursday the United Nations conference on endangered species soundly rejected the tabled proposal to ban international trade in buefin tuna. The vote was taken by delegates to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, commonly referred to as CITES. The vote was 68-20 against, with 30 abstentions.

The bluefin tuna stocks around the world are understood to be in catastrophic decline. There are two separate stocks in the Atlantic, and recent studies show that the Western Atlantic stock declined by 82% between 1970-2007, while the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Stock has declined almost 75% since the 1950s, and is still in free-fall.

The Japanese consume more than 80% of all the Atlantic bluefin tuna catch, and the Japanese government pulled out all stops to defeat the resolution. It argues that the issue should be managed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) - an organization that has no enforcement mechanism, and which continually sets quotas in excess of the safe maximums set by its own scientists. So as with the whale issue, the Japanese cast themselves as the environmental villains, in a role that is entirely at odds with their carefully nurtured self-image as lovers of nature.

There are those who have in the past been skeptical about using trading regimes to achieve environmental objectives. But as the tragedy of the commons begins to reach the final act in the case of such species as tuna, such misgivings have to be put aside. Any effective tool must be taken in hand to prevent disaster.

Meanwhile, a global campaign against the eating of tuna may be in order. No more tuna sashimi, sushi rolls, or tuna-salad sandwiches - or your grandkids may think of tuna the way we do of the Dodo bird. - Gamma.

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