Oceana welcomes FAO majorities supporting international trade ban for bluefin tuna and strong trade measures for sharks

Oceana considers this outcome a key step in urging CITES Contracting Parties to halt the drastic decline of these endangered species

Press Release Date: April 19, 2010

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: mmadina@oceana.org | tel.: Marta Madina

Today the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) made public the results of a technical panel review on the proposals to list bluefin tuna and sharks on CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). The majority of the panel considered that the available evidence support the inclusion of endangered bluefin tuna on Appendix I and various shark species on Appendix II. Oceana affirms that the inclusion of these aquatic commercial species on CITES appendixes is key to guarantee their conservation.

The assessment was carried out within the framework of a Memorandum of Understanding signed between FAO and CITES in 2006 for the specific case of proposals dealing with aquatic commercial species. This assessment, even though it considers other concerns apart from pure biological criteria, is highly respected by CITES Contracting Parties in their decision making.

Bluefin tuna: threatened with extinction, international trade ban needed

The majority of FAO panel has agreed that the available evidence supports Monaco’s proposal to include endangered bluefin tuna on CITES Appendix I, according to the reference levels established in the criteria of the Convention. According to Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana in Europe: “The FAO panel outcome is an important contribution, reinforcing what scientists already assessed. Although full consensus was not reached, the majority has made clear that bluefin tuna needs this immediate and drastic measure to be saved. This result is definitely another step towards an international trade ban that will ensure the survival of this species.”

Bluefin tuna has been driven to the verge of collapse by overexploitation and illegal fishing. Most of the catches are traded internationally to satisfy very high demand. The organisation responsible for managing these fisheries, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), has repeatedly failed in its responsibilities to adopt appropriate measures to reverse the current trend.

ICCAT scientists have recently assessed that it is highly probable that North Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks have experienced a decline to less than 15% of their pre-exploitation spawning biomass. This single data, calculated according to the CITES requirements for addressing aquatic species decline, matches the defined criteria for an international trade ban.  

In the meanwhile, ICCAT has agreed a quota of 13500 tonnes for the Eastern stock which won’t recover the species and which, at the same time, perpetuates illegal fishing.

Oceana and MarViva affirm that currently, there is no rational argument against the inclusion of this endangered species in CITES Appendix 1, a measure that, according to the marine conservation organization, is the only possibility to conserve this species.

Endangered sharks: the need to establish an international trade certification scheme and quotas

FAO also carried out reviews of the eight shark species which have been proposed for listing on Appendix II, which would permit continued international trade, but keep it to sustainable levels. Oceana is pleased that many of the FAO recommendations were positive for sharks, but disagrees with the assessment for spurdog.

Listings for porbeagle sharks, oceanic whitetip sharks and scalloped hammerheads were all recommended by FAO. Great hammerheads and smooth hammerheads were also recommended for Appendix II as “lookalike species”, because of the difficulty in distinguishing them from scalloped hammerhead in their traded form. Sandbar and dusky sharks, also proposed as “lookalikes”, however, were not recommended for listing by FAO.

These species have all suffered biological declines in various parts of their range in recent decades due to international trade and fisheries demand for their meat, fins and oil, qualifying them for listing on CITES Appendix II. The international fin trade especially is causing the depletion of many shark species, and if left unchecked it could lead to the end of these top ocean predators. CITES trade regulation is the best tool to make sure that won’t happen,” declared Ricardo Aguilar, Science Director for Oceana in Europe.

FAO did not recommend the spurdog for listing on Appendix II. Oceana claims that international demand for this species’ high valued meat and its biological declines do warrant a CITES listing. Nearly all northern hemisphere stocks have experienced population declines to 10–30% of their baseline levels and stocks in other parts of its range may experience similar declines in the near future. Oceana urges the CITES contracting parties to list the spurdog on Appendix II.

Changing the view on commercial fishes

CITES provides a worldwide legal framework for regulating and controlling trade of plants and animals. Species are proposed for listing on its appendices once international trade puts them at risk of extinction. Very few commercial aquatic species have been added to CITES, as contracting parties that are involved in trade are often reluctant to impose regulations or limitations. However, Oceana points out that CITES is a valid and necessary conservation instrument for declining commercial aquatic species whose depletion is closely related to international trade, and it is a necessary complement to sustainable fisheries management.

Xavier Pastor, Executive Director for Oceana in Europe, has highlighted the importance of including aquatic commercial species on the CITES Appendices: There is a wide public understanding of terrestrial species threatened with extinction, such as large land mammal like elephants and tigers. But in a world where marine biodiversity is disappearing, where it’s estimated that 90% of the big ocean predators have vanished, the same concern doesn’t exist for these magnificent creatures. Threatened bluefin tuna and sharks, some of the most emblematic animals in our seas, are being driven to depletion by international trade. Their stock declines match the biological criteria needed to be listed in CITES. This is the only consideration that must being taken into account by decision makers in order to proceed.” 

A common CITES position for all these species is now being negotiated in the European Union, to be defended in the next meeting of the Contracting Parties, to be held in Doha (Qatar) in March 2010.