Short-term profit wins the day over sustainability of fisheries

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 April, 2010, 12:00am

Together with China, Singapore and a few dependent countries, Japan participated in what I would call the oceans' Pearl Harbour.

To watch this battle, during which we all worked so hard to protect endangered marine species, was devastating.

The big losers of this despicable behaviour were the oceans, the sharks, the red corals and the Atlantic bluefin tuna. Since the ocean is our life-support system, that makes all humans who live on this planet big losers as well. Without a healthy ocean, we will not be able to survive.

Who gives those people the right to loot our oceans? Sadly, the answer is the members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites). They handed them the mandate to do so.

Japan was represented by 50 people, giving a lavish sushi party at their embassy the night before the vote on the tuna, applying pressure on the poor countries to get their vote. It was a disgusting display of ownership over our oceans. The oceans belong to all of humanity, and the sushi party clearly tells me how the votes against sharks, tuna and red corals came about. You don't need to be a marine scientist to figure that out.

This kind of behaviour had one common denominator - money. I found it embarrassing to watch the representative from Iceland, putting her arms around every Japanese she could get her hands on, after the vote on the porbeagle shark was lost; and hugging representatives from Singapore to show her pleasure over the damage they just did to our oceans.

What did we finally achieve as far as the oceans are concerned?

It is a death sentence to the bluefin tuna and to millions of sharks that made those people so very happy. There was little talk about the protection of marine life.

Nobody paid attention to the scientists who warned about the consequences to the ocean if those species were to be lost.

The bluefin tuna population has already been reduced by 80 per cent, the red coral is almost extinct in the Mediterranean, and the hammerhead and other shark species have been depleted by more than 90 per cent in some areas. But that did not matter to those in the multibillion-dollar business of killing them.

Is that what Cites is all about? Has it become a convention in favour of trade in endangered species? There was a lot of talk about poor people who would suffer if we stop the killing; but I don't know too many poor people who do severe damage to the oceans.

The damage is done by huge long-line fishing vessels, owned by rich people.

I don't think that too many poor people will indulge in bluefin tuna sushi or in shark's fin soup. Many Japanese do and that's why The Sunday Times rightfully calls Japan a 'country out of step'.

Jupp Baron Kerckerinck zur Borg, president, Shark Research Institute, Princeton, New Jersey, US