Dubai: After a single bluefin tuna recently sold for more than Dh650,000 in Japan and made into some of the world's most expensive sushi, the international community is gearing up to meet in Doha next month to vote whether the worldwide export of the critically endangered species should be banned.

The bluefin tuna is fished in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea for the Japanese market, but GCC countries familiar with over fishing and its impact on the hammour, should use their votes to protect the bluefin tuna from being fished to extinction, said one of the bans strong supporters.

More than 170 countries signatory to the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (Cites) will meet in Qatar next month to vote on including the bluefin tuna in Cites Appendix I which prohibits its international trade for commercial use.

"There is illegal fishing going on in the Mediterranean; it's not featured on any appendices and any quota issued will not be enough for the stocks to recover," said Dr Susan Lieberman, deputy director of the Washington-based Pew Environment Group. "And of course that's not all they're catching. Other species caught as by-catch is enormous," she said.

Appendix 1

The Pew Environment Group strongly supports the proposal to include Atlantic bluefin tuna on Appendix 1 as the extremely high price of the fish, fuelled by the international sushi market, has led to rampant and unchecked over fishing, driving this species toward commercial extinction.

Bluefin tuna was nearly listed on the appendices in 1992 but not enough member nations of Cites voted in favour of the ban. "If it could have got listed in 1992, we wouldn't be here now. It's all uphill at the moment."

Illegal trade

This is the first time Cites is convening in the Middle East. The illegal animal trade has not evaded the region and this would be a good time for the GCC to show other member nations of their intentions to combat illegal trading of endangered animals, said Lieberman.

A Gulf News investigation in 2009 found pet shops and websites in the UAE openly trading in crocodiles, lions, cheetahs and other species found on appendices I and II without permits.

"The GCC countries could show their commitment to conservation during the meeting. Most have signed [to Cites]," said Lieberman. "They could turn things around and use the meetings to show a different face. They can stand up and say we are part of biodiversity."

According to Lieberman, there was a huge crackdown on illegal traders in Thailand three years ago ahead of the Cites conference of the parties in Bangkok. "While some pet shops here may not be illegal they need to close down some markets and increase enforcement and awareness. Compliance is needed. In this region some countries had no laws a few years ago but now they do, it's not as bad as it was. But political will is needed, they should take it seriously and act on it," Lieberman told Gulf News.


Also on the agenda for the meeting in Qatar is a proposal to list eight shark species on Appendix II, which lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled. It also includes so-called "look-alike species". The scalloped hammerhead, oceanic whitetip, porbeagle and spiny dogfish sharks are all being proposed for closer monitoring.

The Smooth hammerhead, great hammerhead, sandbar and dusky sharks have also been submitted as look-alike species. Never before have so many shark species been proposed for consideration at Cites, however the Secretariat recently endorsed the request to include all but the dusky and sandbar sharks — in the hammerhead proposal.