Tigers and rhinoceros were among the wildlife winning greater protection Thursday by a United Nations meeting on trade in endangered species, taking crucial steps toward protecting land animals but not pelagic ones, experts said.
"CITES has not done a good job on marine animals," Vincent F. Gallucci, a professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, told The Daily Green.
CITES, which stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, wrapped up its meeting Thursday, amid hopes by marine wildlife advocates of trade protections extending to Atlantic bluefin tuna, corals and sharks.
But after two weeks of meetings in Doha, Qatar, the trade convention dashed those hopes.
"It is shameful," Carlos Drews, head of species program at the World Wildlife Fund, said of the convention's decisions in a statement, adding that "scientific evidence" for protecting marine wildlife, like the Atlantic bluefin tuna, were crushed by "political considerations."
But some experts disagree. Some at the convention said that, while Atlantic bluefin tuna, for example, sells for two or three times the price of other tuna in some markets, the pricey fish simply doesn't compare economically with rhinoceros horns and tiger hides.
"They are not 'fabulously valuable," said Ray Hilborn, a professor at the University of Washington who specializes in natural resource management and conservation.
Another possible issue, he said, is that CITES tends to list birds and mammals with populations below 1,000, and "there remain hundreds of thousands of [Atlantic bluefin tuna]."
Indeed, the decision by the triennial United Nations trade convention to not list the bluefin tuna or other oceanic animals seems to be the result of a delicate balance of population control, poaching crises, and a pragmatic course of action.
"With as few as 3,200 tigers left in the wild, with significant incidents of elephant ivory smuggling being noted, and with an increasing demand for rhinoceros horn in parts of Asia," said CITES of its agenda in an official statement, "a higher priority for wildlife law enforcement has never been more needed."
Indeed, law enforcement appears to have broken the balance when it comes to bluefin tuna and possibly other marine animals for CITES. Unlike land animals that wander in-and-out of governmental jurisdictions where laws can be enforced, marine wildlife are lawless and free deep in the ocean's "no man's land."
"People are fishing in areas that belong to everyone and belong to no one," said Gallucci, but points to the positive results by the International Whaling Commission in protecting the massive mammals in the same open oceans.
"Something different has to be done," said Gallucci, whose research in an upcoming issue of Marine Policy describes the need for a new and independent oceanic wildlife protection watchdog that is somewhat patterned after the International Whaling Commission.
For now, disappointed advocates are revving up their campaign for a meeting by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas later this year in Paris.
"ICCAT and other regional fisheries management organizations must now deliver," Steven Broad, executive director of TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, said in a statement.
"The world will be watching," he added.
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