Thursday, March 28, 2013

Triennial Conference of the CITES - A historic edition

From March 3 to 14, the 16th Triennial Conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was held in Bangkok (Thailand). The edition described as historic by many present experts was completed by the adoption of strong measures against the overexploitation of marine species in general and sharks in particular.

In the Booth CCO7, during the Queen Sirikit National Convention, at the Palace Convention in Bangkok, the party is at its peak. This is the starting week of the 16th Conference of Parties (COP) of the International Endangered Species Trade Convention (CITES) and the Pew Charity Trusts, a powerful non-profit American NGO specializing in environmental issues organizing in its booth a Shark Happy Hour (Happy Hour shark). One way to "happily" pressure until the scheduled committee vote ... March 11, 2013.

That evening, greeted and welcomed either side, Susan Lieberman, said Sue, is the star of the Shark Happy Hour. The executive director of the Pew Environment Group, a highly influential and well respected US organisation, spoke of the "historic moment." Indeed, a few minutes ago, the committee opted (after a secret ballot) for the listing of five sharks species and manta rays in the Annex II (after a consensus) and the transfer of sawfish in Appendix II to Appendix I (see Box 1). However, the battle was far from won in advance. Disliked by some because of its sensationalist media coverage of attacks against human or appreciated by others because of the culinary traditions of some Asian countries fond of its fins, shark, Apex predators (set at the top of the food scale) is cursed.

The species more "vulnerable” are subject of the NGOs’ increased attention. For years, they attempt to enroll Endangered species in the Endangered Species International Trade Convention of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Without success. "I am delighted by this vote, she says smiling. This is an initial for CITES, not with respect to marine species, but to the commercial marine species. "And if many NGOs questioned the vote, Sue Lieberman, from her side, has never been pessimistic. "Many developing countries are tired of seeing their seabed exploited by fishing industries. They opted for species conservation. I remain optimistic, but we must remain vigilant. The next step is to work with governments to see how to implement it. "Monday, March 11th, only the first shark battle was won while waiting for the plenary vote which would confirm (or not) the committee decisions. However, the NGO had its gaze fixed on the next step: the implementation of the registration, a task that proves difficult.

Back with a victory

On March 14th, after ten days of discussions in committee and in plenary, the 16th edition of the triennial conference was complete of CITES called “COP16”. “This is a great day for CITES and for the flora and fauna species. It took time to negotiate and implement treaties. The international community has decided to use effective and pragmatic agreement to act in favour of our oceans and forests conservation, "said John E. Scanlon, in the final declaration. The allusion is thinly veiled. Therefore, the Secretary General of CITES refers to the fiercely debated discussions on the listing of five shark species in Appendix II. "We call on all parties to recognize the urgency of the situation and start to work towards the conservation of those species," declared Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International at a press conference. Their joy as their tenacity is understandable.

Flashback ... After a relatively calm week, the committee I chaired by the Canadian Carolina Caceres, opens on March 11th in an apparent tension atmosphere. In the room, along with 170 delegations, rub feverishly of nature protection associations and organizations and fishing lobbyists. "We are sincerely hoping to see the first proposal adopted because it would have driven dynamics throughout the day resulting in more votes for others", told us afterwards Dr. Colman O'Criodain from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). It is 9:00 in the morning when the proposal discussions started (42) filed by Brazil, Colombia and the United States of setting the oceanic whitetip shark in Appendix II. This is not a first. The previous editions had resulted in a fiasco.

Behind the ecological arguments, legal or technical, financial stakes lie estimating billions of dollars per year. Only this time, the delegations made their supporting expertise presentation. According to a study implemented in 2009 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a reliable NGO often consulted by many inter-governmental organizations, the species are "vulnerable globally and critically endangered in some regions". For the Organization, the equation is simple: the oceanic whitetip shark is overfished and low reproductive capacity cannot "compensate" for this intensive trade. Rarely used for subsistence purposes, the oceanic whitetip shark is "being caught as incidental catch, or caught for their fins (2% of the animal)" easily identifiable and marketed primarily in Asia.

The height of human cruelty ... the rest (of the body) is frequently rejected on the seas surface. Until the 16th edition of CITES, the trade was not regulated. "The registration (Annex II) does not prohibit international trade. This would strengthen regional cooperation and legitimate trade. We invite you to cross the historic step in promoting the precautionary principle. Do not wait until the situation gets worse, pleaded in its presentation the Colombian delegation who proposed an 18-months period in order to enable parties of resolving the related technical and administrative problems. "The States’ proposal was originally immediately supported by the European Union which "is committed to earmark funds by supporting the capacity building for the implementation of CITES marine species registration." Quickly, many countries including New Zealand, Mali and Senegal joined the Colombian position.

The Asian estoppels

However, the positive trend does not last. In the room, smiles clench when the representative of the Japanese delegation took the floor. He presented arguments both technical and practical. According to him, the marine resources are not CITES. According to the regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) - international organizations established by countries with fishing interests in the specific geographical area, are entitled to do so.

In addition, he says, listing the species, paradoxically, "the increasing price will promote the illegal trade." Difficulties in distinguishing these species from other problems in the regulatory implementation, economic hardship for fishermen, quickly delegations from many countries (China, Singapore and some Caribbean islands) share the raised concerns by the Japanese. "Saying that it goes against the people, is a false argument, replied Christophe Marie from the Brigitte Bardot Foundation. This is a mess in the shark case in which is taken 2% of the animal to reject the rest in the sea. It is a luxury trade and a non-food causing a depletion of the seas. The FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization) is the only organization that have jurisdiction competency over fisheries issues.

But during this conference, she took a position to say that there is urgency to complete the regulation at the international level throughout the CITES. "Despite the decisive blow given by FAO experts who said that "the oceanic whitetip shark meets the scientific criteria" for inclusion in Annex II, the battle was fierce. It is set at the end of a secret ballot requested by Japan.

The 42nd proposal is adopted in two-thirds to 92 votes against 42. And as stated Dr. Colman O'Criodain the dynamics was followed thereafter. The 43rd Proposal (relating to the registration of three species of hammerhead sharks in Appendix II), 44 (relating to the registration of porbeagle in Appendix II) and 46 (relating to the registration of the line manta in Appendix II) were adopted. Difficulty and after long debates highlighting the same arguments. The sawfish is transferred from Appendix II to Appendix I making... March 11th, a day particularly prolific for marine species.

Committee corridors

The euphoria only lasted one night. The next day, two press conferences are held. The first that brings together NGOs of nature conservation that have been a frontage for the occasion, and participating delegationsin many African countries and the Arabian Peninsula. The second is organized by the delegations’ original proposals. The objective? Is not to sink into satisfaction. A new word is already relayed: you must keep the pressure in order not to suffer a setback in the plenary.

The disappointment is greater. "There is no doubt that it (NDLR / shark) aroused the public interest. Scientists are responsible for having driven this change, "said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark advocacies.

Despite the fears of a reversal in the plenary, the hope is still maintained. In addition to the role played by the scientists, the big change this year was the establishment of a broad front conservation of marine species.

Many Arab countries like Egypt, Yemen and the Comoros Islands and especially the countries of West Africa have pledged to support throughout the proposal. Whatever the price... Senegal is undoubtedly the one that most reflects this willingness.

"Since 2001, we set up a sub-regional action plan as we become aware of the shark’s threat. We trained educators and researchers to recognize the species. We supported research centers.

This allowed us to have a clear idea of the situation of each species, "explained the biologist Dr Mika Diop, Program Officer at the Permanent Secretariat of the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC).

Not surprisingly, the drawn up inventory is rather alarming. For 10 years, a downward trend is confirmed, registering a fall of 82% of abundance. "There are two impacts. One is economic and the other focuses on the ecosystem. If we do not manage in a sustainable and balanced way, everything will be caught. What will the fishermen become in the future? We all agreed on the conversion.

It is true that it is difficult to convince, but when we provide economic data the leaders will also comprehend, "he added. The previously processed arguments were difficult to understand by the authorities, and were increasingly accurate... in order to be finally heard.The shark regulates the population in the oceans, proceed Abba Sonko, Head of the Management Body of CITES-Senegal. More on shark catches, more opportunistic species, worthless fish will thrive and occupy the ecological niche. And that risk jeopardizing thousands of jobs.

"The result of this gradual awareness is automatic. Before the conference opening last December, the 7 Ministers of Fisheries in the region have adopted a resolution in Guinea to support the inclusion of these species in the Appendix II.

The spectrum of Doha

The front "shark", as NGOs were convinced on March 11th... The proposals would be an attempt to re-discussion. "The risk still exists. In order to re-debate a question under discuss, the State is simply in need to collect the one third of the votes of those present. This happened repeatedly," conceded Azzedine Downes, President of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), after the vote. However, for the organizations, the key was to avoid the scenario of the previous edition in Doha.

"High pressures were exerted on the African delegations. Poverty is devastating. When you have nothing, you are ready to accept everything, shows Mika Diop. But they must understand that they have come to defend their interests." When it comes to fishing, the money quickly flows at the conference. "In Doha, the lobbying was so far that an ordered call has been made by the secretariat, Christophe Marie remembers. At the time, International Meetings were organized. Positions changed when the debate resumed. This year we were pleased to see that many countries protesting against the secret ballot in announcing their vote. One way in encouraging and establishing a definite and transparent debate. As expected, on Thursday, March 14, some countries have tried to reopen the debate in plenary but without success.

As a foremost matter...

Trade, environment and development ... This is the triptych on which the EndangeredSpecies International Trade Convention of wild and endangered flora called Washington Convention known by the abbreviation CITES.

Behind concerns that might seem strictly environmental, some discussions have a financial impact which amounts to billions of dollars. Often, entire economies based on trade in certain animal and plant species. Behind the diplomatic delegations niceties of 170 countries attending the Conference, play real power relations. Receptions and cocktails alongside the discussions, suspicions of bargaining or even of threats, or almost all shots are allowed because the stakes are not insignificant.

Far from it... once every two, three / years, the highest structure provided by the CITES Parties Conference meet, called Cdp, responsible for deciding the species’ "commercial" future, that is to say for the survival of some of them, such as sharks, elephants, rhinos, crocodiles or polar bears. Today, CITES provides protection to more than 30,000 wild flora and fauna. A protection equivalent first and foremost to control and regulation. In fact, far from preconceived ideas, the Convention does not prohibit endangered species trade. Its role is to organize to varying degrees. The system is an easy outset. Three appendices, reflecting different degrees of protection are provided.

Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction whose trade "is only permitted in exceptional circumstances." Appendix II includes species threatened in the medium term "specimens which trade must be controlled to avoid incompatible utilization with their survival." The inclusion in Appendix III, the least discussed, is required by a country seeking assistance from other CITES Parties to control trade in certain species.

Also according to the Convention, "any importation or exportation of species listed in any of the appendixes, must be authorized through a licensing system" issued by an member of administration state whose decision is based on a scientific authority.

If discussions are often conducted in a calm and balanced manner, sometimes other species are the subject of heated debate; "commercial" lobbyists are extremely powerful in many delegations. The opposition is due to many reasons. However, firstly the listing of species in CITES is permanently accompanied by a headache and a heavy administrative synonymous with loss of money and growth of illegal trade. Thus, the only economic interest of the prevail country... Interest that could only undermine scientifically proved criteria.

Polar Bear: disappointment

The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) will not receive full protection against international trade. Claimed by many associations, the transfer of the wild species from Appendix II to Appendix I ultimately did not pass. Supported by Russia, the United States was behind the proposal (3), allowing the strongly passed trade limit of the animal and its derivatives.

This was without counting on Canada's strong Inuit lobby that are strongly opposed. However, since 2005, IUCN (2008) had transferred the polar bear status of "least concern" to any of the threatened categories "vulnerable." In September 2007, experts from the United States Geological Survey have even published a report in which they foresee the disappearance of two-thirds (of the population) by 2050, worldwide. Those scientific data have already led some states to take drastic measures. In 1956, Russia banned the hunting. More recently, the United States have placed polar bears on the endangered species list.

In this context, Canada is the only leading exporter and the only state that allows trading export. In this ultra passionate debate between pros and antis species’ listing in Appendix I, the compromise solution of the European Union consisting of "establishing enhanced surveillance of hunting quotas accompanied by further studies on the polar bear populations "was taken aback. Result? Neither the original proposal nor the compromise was adopted. "The weakness of the European Union appears when there is a dispute between the twenty-seven member states," says Azzedine Downes. President of the IFAW is particularly disappointed from the virtual count prior to work initiation that allowed him to be more confident. “The European Union occurs negatively in the protection of species because delegations are often confused by its position," he says.

The Antagonism and the indecision of some States were not the only fatal cause to the non-inclusion of polar bears in Appendix I. The disputes between NGOs also marked the voting. Certainly, for the WWF, the polar bears are not threatened by trade but... by climate change; "The CITES is not the appropriate body to its preservation."

"The main threat to polar bears is climate change, which are primarily responsible governments behind this proposal. If the proposal was adopted, we would be worried for spreading a false sense of security. If trading was a direct threat, we would have seen things differently but this is not the case.

The species are already regulated by CITES. They appear in Annex II, "said Dr. Colman O'Criodain from WWF. In fact, bears are completely dependent on sea ice to catch their prey. In the earlier period, the sea ice in the Arctic continues to decline. "It is true that climate change is the biggest threat," concedes Azzedine Downes. Then he immediately proceed with a question: "But why add another threat to the existing one? '

This article was selected by the World Environment Magazine and sponsored by Internews Earth Journalism Network and Europe through the launch of the Tunisian Report on Network Environment.

Source: Realites Magazine

Image courtesy of Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch