Is tuna the new ivory? Here’s one thing about the bluefin: it’s a migratory species that swims the world, from the Western Atlantic to the Mediterranean. Here’s another: a bluefin tuna, which can weigh hundreds of pounds, often sells for more than $100,000 a pop. It’s no surprise, then, that when you pull 175 countries together to consider the commercial fate of this aquatic jackpot, things get messy.
The mood at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which kicked off last weekend in Doha, Qatar, has indeed been sour. The crux of it all is a proposal, introduced by Monaco, to ban global trade of the Atlantic bluefin tuna—which many environmentalists say is on the fast path to extinction. On one side are the 40 nations that have already agreed to support a ban. On the other is Japan, which claims the bluefin as a culinary staple and economic essential—and which consumes about 75 per cent of the worldwide catch. Japan favours fishing quotas instead of an all-out trade ban. “It is very much up in the air. There’s a lot of jockeying,” says Patrick Van Klaveren, who represents Monaco at CITES.
Most countries are still uncommitted, like the U.S, which will likely back Monaco, and Canada, rumoured to oppose the ban for commercial reasons. But Van Klaveren warns: “Japan’s lobbying is formidable.” Already, he says, Japan has been bullying developing nations, “along the lines of ‘your turn will come.’ ” Japanese officials have dismissed environmental claims and pledged to ignore any ban that comes into effect. In the meantime, tuna flesh has irrevocably been politicized, in much the way that ivory has: so much so that Doha delegates are too busy to think of much else—like the open proposal to allow a major sale of stockpiled ivory goods.