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Trade vs. Marine Conservation

Interviewee: Pamela Chasek, Director of the International Studies Program, Manhattan College
Interviewer: Toni Johnson, Staff Writer, CFR.org
April 1, 2010

The 2010 meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Doha ended March 25 without more stringent protections (CSMonitor) for bluefin tuna, red and pink coral, and several species of shark sought by some countries and environmental advocates. Pamela Chasek, director of the International Studies program at Manhattan College and an expert on international environment politics, says for tuna protection, many conservationists believed it should be the responsibility of regional fisheries management organizations to implement greater protection. "What's going to happen since [tuna] wasn't listed on CITES, is when these organizations meet later this year, there's going to be a lot more pressure on them to manage their tuna populations," Chasek says. "A lot of people think that's going to be a good thing, if these organizations could be made to be not just a place where countries argue for quotas on fishing but true conservation organizations." She says sharks also have other potential international venues for protection including the Bonn Convention on Biodiversity, but for corals, "there's no other place to deal with them besides CITES."

With Japan consuming more than 75 percent of the world's bluefin tuna, the country had a huge role in preventing tuna's listing under CITES. "The tuna industry is a huge industry," she says. "It provides a lot of jobs, provides a lot of money, [and] also makes the basis for relationships that Japan has with a lot other countries because they pay some developing countries to fish tuna in their territorial waters." Yet environmentalists have expressed concerns that dwindling tuna stocks could be completely depleted in a few years time, which Japanese authorities see as exaggerated estimates.

Chasek notes a brewing battle between trade and environment since the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995. "The whole concept of sustainable development, of being able to leave resources for future generations, is very difficult to convince people of," she says. "And when you've got economic realities, and people are concerned that if you put a ban on coral or tuna or ivory, or other things that will affect their livelihoods, they're not looking down the line ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred years to say these species are not going to be here."

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