Why International Trade is not Dolphin Safe

Seth Victor

You may have your own opinions about the World Trade Organization (WTO), whether positive or negative. Regardless, the WTO wields influence over imports and exports worldwide. As we have discussed at length on this blawg, animals are commodities, and thus the policies of the WTO are important when considering animal rights.Dolphins in Net

Over the last several months the WTO has taken issue with dolphin-safe tuna. To summarize what is a long and involved debate, since 1990 the United States has provided labels specifying whether dolphins were killed (though “harmed” isn’t covered) through the harvesting of tuna to be sold in the U.S. market under the Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act (originally the labels really meant that purse seine nets, the type that often harm dolphins, weren’t used). Mexico, via a complaint to the WTO, claimed that these dolphin safety measures unfairly impeded Mexico’s tuna trade. The WTO agreed, and ruled that the dolphin-safe labels are “unnecessarily restrictive on trade.”  This ruling comes out of one of the core principles of the WTO’s policy of non-discrimination. Under the doctrine of “the most favoured nation” all WTO countries must extend to each other the same trade advantages as the most prefered trading nation would receive. National equality also states that foreign traders must be treated the same way as domestic traders. When you consider the long history of violence and discrimination associated with international trade, including the United States’s own origins, this is sound policy. Yet as always, the devil is in the application.

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(Another) Bad Week for Polar Bears and Tuna

David Cassuto

It’s been quite a week over at the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)Up for discussion was a ban on hunting polar bears and bluefin tuna.  The discussions yielded some predictably (and yet still astonishingly) shortsighted conclusions.

The delegates rejected a ban on polar bear hunting because “hunting is not the most serious threat the polar bear faces” (recall that the bear was listed as endangered last year because of the pressures created by climate change and the consequent loss of icepack).  Here’s a simple logical sequence: Hunting kills bears.  If people stopped hunting them that would be one less thing killing bears.  Unfortunately, this reasoning did not carry the day.  Rather, opponents successfully argued that there is no point to killing fewer bears until we know for certain that we won’t kill them some other way. Follow this reasoning with me if you will.  It is like refusing to treat your compound fracture until you’re certain that there exists a cure for your brain tumor.    Continue reading

“One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, No Fish”

Jennifer Church

This Monday, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the international body that sets annual tuna fishing limits, announced a reduction in the fishing quota of the Bluefin Tuna.  However, most scientists agree that the reduction does not go far enough to save bluefin tuna from near extinction. The EU, US and Japan have decided to limit the 2010 catch quotas to 13,500 tons.  Catches were lowered from 28,500 tons to 22,000 this year. Scientists say that is still 7,000 tons over what they would advise.

A single bluefin tuna can sell for $100,000 and is traditionally used for sashimi.  Overall, it’s a billion dollar global business that is driven by an appetite for tuna, especially in Japan.  The bluefin population is less than a fifth of what it was in the 1970s, making it one of the most threatened fish in the sea.  Illegal overharvesting is the main cause of the bluefin’s sharp population decline.  Many scientists urged the ICCAT to accept nothing less than a fishing quota of zero, however the commission has never reduced the allowable catch by as much as scientists recommended (See the blog post written last year regarding this very issue.)  Now many fear the species is inevitably headed toward extinction.

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What Price Sushi? Tuna on the Brink

3bluefin_tunaThe bluefin tuna can go from 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds. Underwater.  One of the top predators in the ocean, the fish can grow to 10 feet in length and weigh 1500 pounds.  It also makes really good sushi — dead bluefin can sell for over $100,000.  Consequently, it has been fished to the brink of extinction; the population of Atlantic bluefin has plunged by 80 – 90% since the 1970s.

Scientists have been telling the International Commission for the Conservation of  Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) for years that its allowable quota is way too high and that it must lower the maximum catch to under 15,000 tons per year.  Unfortunately, ICCAT has yet to listen.  The quota for this season is 47 percent above scientists’ recommendations, although ICCAT has declared it a recovery plan. Which makes it all that much more disturbing that Turkey has decided to ignore ICCAT’s already inadequate quotas and fish themselves silly. Turkey has the largest bluefin fishing fleet in the Mediterranean.

While it is not illegal to catch or sell bluefin, this results from inadequate international will rather than any abundance of fish.  The tuna is critically endangered and disappearing fast.  It would be nice if governments rallied around it the way they do for whales and sea turtles.  Nicer still would be if restaurants like Nobu (owned by Robert DeNiro and Nobu Matsuhisa) stopped serving it. As Willie Mackenzie of Greenpeace UK observes, “Eating bluefin tuna is as bad as digging into a tiger steak or gorilla burger.  It is entirely unacceptable that Nobu, or any restaurant, is serving an endangered species, and it must stop immediately if the species is to be saved from extinction.”

Nicest of all, though, would be if people just stopped eating it.

–David Cassuto

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