US backs ban on bluefin tuna trade

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post / March 4, 2010

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WASHINGTON - The US government announced yesterday that it supports prohibiting international trade of Atlantic bluefin tuna, a move that could lead to the most sweeping trade restrictions ever imposed on the highly prized fish.

Sushi aficionados in Japan and elsewhere have consumed bluefin for decades, causing the fish’s population to plummet. In less than two weeks, representatives from 175 countries will convene in Doha, Qatar, to determine whether to restrict the trade of bluefin tuna - valued for its rich, buttery taste - and an array of other imperiled species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Late last year, Monaco proposed listing Atlantic bluefin tuna under the treaty’s Appendix I, which amounts to a total ban. The Obama administration did not immediately endorse the proposal, a move that sparked widespread criticism from American marine scientists and ocean activists. But Tom Strickland, assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks at the Department of the Interior, privately backed the proposal from the outset.

Japan, the world’s largest bluefin consumer, opposes the idea of trade restrictions, while the European Union has yet to take a formal position.

In an interview yesterday, Strickland said the United States decided it needed to push for the new protection because “the regulatory mechanisms that have been relied upon have failed to do the job.’’

Strickland will lead the US delegation to the international convention between March 13 and 25.

Over the past 40 years, the adult population of eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna has declined 72 percent. In the western Atlantic, the population has dropped 82 percent. The declines occurred even though bluefin fishing was being governed by an international panel that sets catch quotas and is supposed to curtail illegal fishing.