Pew Applauds the Obama Administration for Backing Global Trade Prohibition of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, Urges International Support

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The Pew Environment Group today praised the Obama administration for supporting the proposed CITES Appendix I listing for Atlantic bluefin tuna.  Pew also called for all governments to join the United States in advocating for this proposal, sponsored by Monaco, which would prohibit international commercial trade of this iconic species and prevent it from becoming commercially extinct.

Government delegates from almost 175 countries – including the United States – will debate the bluefin proposal as well as international trade restrictions for eight species of sharks at the upcoming Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) conference. During this meeting, which will take place in Doha, Qatar from March 13-25, governments will determine the fate of these and more than 40 other species.

Pew today hosted a call (MP3) with leading marine scientists and CITES experts who highlighted the desperate conservation status of bluefin and the shark species.  Speakers discussed the significance of U.S. support for the bluefin tuna proposal and the critical need for governments to provide these fish with the necessary levels of commercial protection under CITES.

“The Obama administration's decision to support a CITES Appendix I listing of Atlantic bluefin tuna could be a real game changer for the species,” said Susan Lieberman, director of international policy at the Pew Environment Group. “Other governments can either join Monaco and the United States in boldly supporting the conservation of bluefin tuna, sharks and other marine species or they can yield to commercial fishing interests that focus more on short-term profits than a sustainable future for both fish and local fishing communities.”

"The hammerheads and oceanic whitetips are classified as ‘endangered' by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and are primarily threatened by the fin trade, which claims up to 73 million sharks every year," said Demian D. Chapman, assistant science director at the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stonybrook University. "The porbeagle and spiny dogfish sharks – the latter a staple ingredient of ‘fish and chips' since most Atlantic cod stocks collapsed – have been depleted by European seafood markets. The loss of all of these sharks, many of which are top predators, would be detrimental to the health of our oceans worldwide."

“The bluefin is a giant, warm-blooded fish that's capable of sudden acceleration to highway speeds,” said former tuna fisherman Carl Safina, founder of Blue Ocean Institute. “They were thrilling to catch, but right now a sea-going buffalo hunt is forcing them toward commercial extinction. The United States and other governments – must vigorously support the effort to hit the brakes.”

CITES is an international treaty among 175 governments which entered into force in 1975. Countries that accede to (or become party to) CITES must respect and enforce all provisions of the Convention. CITES has protected more than 30,000 species around the globe and is considered one of the best-enforced international conservation agreements. Species can only be added or removed from Appendix listings by a two-thirds majority vote at the Conference of the Parties (CoP), which occurs every two and a half years.

CITES has traditionally focused more on land-based species. But this year, there are more marine species proposed for protection than at any previous CITES meeting, including: 

  • Atlantic bluefin tuna, the gold standard of high-end sushi, whose populations have declined more than 80% since 1970. Today, the United States announced its support for a proposal sponsored by Monaco to list bluefin in CITES Appendix I, which would prohibit international commercial trade of the species.
  • Scalloped hammerhead sharks, known for their distinctive silhouettes, whose numbers have declined by as much as 98% in some regions. The United States and Palau are sponsoring a proposal to list this shark (along with two other hammerheads, dusky and sandbar sharks) in CITES Appendix II, which would require export permits for all international trade and a determination that trade is legal and not detrimental to the species' survival.
  • Oceanic whitetip sharks, whose large fins have been valued at $45 – $85 per kilogram. The United States and Palau sponsored an Appendix II listing for this vulnerable shark, whose populations has declined by 99 percent in the Gulf of Mexico. 
  • Porbeagle sharks, cousins of the great white shark, and spiny dogfish sharks, which are known to live over 80 years. The European Union and Palau are sponsoring proposals to list these sharks in CITES Appendix II. 

Listen to a recording (MP3) of today's press call.

For position papers on tuna and shark proposals, fact sheets, a report detailing the domestic U.S. economic impacts of a CITES Appendix I listing for bluefin tuna, a recording of today's press call and more information on CITES, go to www.pewenvironment.org/CITES.

Broadcast quality b-roll of Atlantic bluefin tuna, scalloped hammerheads, oceanic whitetips, porbeagles and spiny dogfish is available upon request.

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