The Obama administration expressed support today for a proposed ban on the international trade of Atlantic bluefin tuna.
Monaco has proposed listing the tuna as an "appendix 1" species under the United Nations' Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), a designation that would prohibit its trade across international boundaries. The convention will take up the proposal at a meeting in Doha, Qatar, beginning March 15.
The United States issued preliminary support for the proposal in October but said it would reconsider if the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) adopted sufficiently strong fishing quotas and enforcement measures.
Today, Tom Strickland, assistant Interior secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, said the United States has determined ICCAT fell short.
"We recognize that the parties to ICCAT took some unprecedented steps," Strickland said. "However, in light of the serious compliance problems that have plagued the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean fishery and the fact that the 2010 quota level adopted by ICCAT is not as low as we believe is needed, the United States continues to have serious concerns about the long-term viability of either the fish or the fishery."
ICCAT members in November agreed to a binding catch limit of 13,500 metric tons, down from 22,000 in 2009. U.S. delegates had pushed for a quota of 8,000 metric tons.
To pass, Monaco's proposed ban would require a two-thirds majority vote of the 175 CITES parties. CITES has few enforcement measures other than those self-imposed by member nations, and any member can exempt itself for a given species.
Japan, where 80 percent of all bluefin tuna is consumed, announced in February it would not participate in any bluefin trade ban.
"When it comes to Japan, any party is allowed to take a reservation," said Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Tamara Ward. "At this point, there is nothing we can do, but we hope to encourage them during the negotiations in Qatar."
The ban could still be effective without Japan's participation if other countries refuse to export their catch, said Susan Lieberman, director of international policy at the Pew Environment Group.
Many European nations support the ban as well, but it faces opposition from Mediterranean states including Greece, Spain and Malta, who argue it would cripple their fishing industry.
Bluefin tuna, ocean predators that can grow up to 1,500 pounds, are valued for use in high-end sushi. A single fish can sell for more than $150,000. The adult population of the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean stocks of bluefin tuna has declined 72 percent in the last 40 years, and the western Atlantic stock has declined 82 percent.
The Obama administration is also supporting "appendix 2" listings under CITES, designations which monitor and regulate international trade of a species but do not impose bans, for six shark species and red and pink coral.