The UN CITES commission came to some surprising decisions this week after they overturned proposals to both control shark fisheries and to ban fishing of the endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus).
The UN CITES conference met in Doha this week to decide whether to introduce a non-binding proposal which called for increased transparency in the shark trade and more research into the threat posed to sharks by illegal fishing.
This comes just weeks after the US based conservation group Oceana released findings that each year over 73 million sharks are killed for their fins mostly for export to countries such as China who use the fins in soup to celebrate events such as weddings and banquets.
The proposal was overturned after the United States, the European Union and other supporters were unable to muster the two-thirds majority needed after China, Russia, Japan and several developing countries voted against it. These countries argued that shark populations aren't suffering and that any effort to protect sharks would damage the economies of poor fishing nations and burden them with expensive enforcement requirements.
Glenn Sant, the global marine program leader for the conservation group TRAFFIC said "What we saw today is those parties that disagree with listing commercially fished species on CITES making a stand. I do worry that instead of looking at the logic and facts of what some of this material contains, they will simply vote on the grounds that they don't want to see any movement on conserving marine species."
His words were worryingly correct when just days later a movement for a complete ban of Atlantic bluefin tuna fishing after a decrease in stocks over over 85% was also overturned after Japan and Canada as well as a number of poorer nations voted against it again on the basis that it would have a negative impact on their economy. Delegates voted down the proposal to protect bluefin by 68 to 20, with 30 abstentions.
In a statement after the vote, Janez Potocnik and Maria Damanaki, Europe's environment and fisheries commissioners, expressed disappointment saying that they would focus their efforts on a meeting of tuna fisheries in October - the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna - to try to protect the species.
"If action is not taken, there is a very serious danger that the bluefin tuna will no longer exist," they said.
Privately, European diplomats expressed frustration that Japan, which consumes 80 per cent of the bluefin tuna caught, was able to cement opposition to the ban while the EU's 27 member states were thrashing out their internal disputes. Japan had previously vowed to go all out to stop the measure or else exempt itself from complying with it.