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CITES has outlived its usefulness and credibility

Bring back science for trade in endangered species.


Once upon a time, an international organization called the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) was formed. It should have been called the Hopeful Alliance of Nations to Actually Do Some Good for Conservation of Endangered Species Involved in Trade, but HANADSGCESIT would perhaps have been too many letters. After the recent charade at the Doha triennial meeting, perhaps CITES should now be called Business as Usual, Save the Trade, or BUST for short.


Those who vote are Government officials from the representative nations, who might or might not listen to advice from scientists, conservationists, and their ministries of environment. More likely, these individuals have no idea or interest of any endangered species’ plight, and attend the conference to enjoy the free food, accommodation, perks, additions to salaries, and the parties.


At the Doha conference, for example, Japan was forewarned that marine species like the bluefin tuna were to be considered by CITES for Appendix 1. These tunas deserve to be listed as an endangered species as populations have greatly declined due to overfishing and relentless commercial trade. Politics took over – Japan insists on providing sushi, and 80% of bluefin tuna is consumed in Japan. The word endangered in Japanese seems equivalent to little more than the phrase “eat them while you still can”. So Japan paid to fly in a dozen or more fisheries ministers from Africa (who are guaranteed not to know anything about tunas) to ensure they voted against a possible CITES listing of the species. A clear example of vote rigging? Japan went so far as to host two receptions where bluefin tuna was intentionally served as part of the menu. Shock, horror, revulsion by delegates? No way. Japan insisted that the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) continue to take care of tunas according to their past standard of excellent performance. ICCAT has been well-criticized – many have called it the International Conspiracy to Catch All Tuna. CITES went along of course, better to delegate responsibility than take it on, and more sushi was probably served in celebration.


Not surprisingly, the tunas were voted down by CITES delegates, as were deserving species of sharks. Elephants “survived” a challenge by Zambia and Tanzania to be downlisted. Perhaps those delegations did not do enough to provide receptions featuring elephant biltong? And the plight of polar bears was also turned down as were overexploited species of corals made into jewellery at a great rate. Another Japanese victory by the way.


CITES has become a sad joke of an organization. Instead of allowing informed votes, ballots are cast by individuals capable of being influenced. Backroom meetings seem more important than conservation realities. Very many taxpayer dollars were spent, and the outcome of Doha reflected very little conservation sense. Time to take a look at how to change CITES? You bet. Let’s have science as key to decisions, let’s have delegates identified by their knowledge and not their political status, and let’s have reason take precedence over receptions. In short, let’s get back to common sense for an organization whose existence is defined by us on the premise of controlling trade in endangered species. We pay for CITES, and we can hopefully make sure things change by their next meeting in 2013.

Posted by Pieter Kat at 00:00

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