Voters on shark conservation facing ‘undue pressure’
Delegates at a conservation meeting in Thailand are expected to vote on proposals to extend protection to three vulnerable species of sharks.
But campaigners say undue “pressuring” of developing countries could swing Monday’s vote against the ban.
China and Japan are said to be using their trade connections to unfairly influence the outcome.
Japan denies exercising any unfair pressure, saying every delegation should vote based on their own beliefs.
An estimated 100 million sharks are killed by commercial fishing every year, researchers have recently reported.
They blame a huge appetite for shark-fin soup in China and Hong Kong for stimulating the trade.They certainly seem to be twisting arms from the feedback we are getting”
The proposals at the Cites conservation meeting in Bangkok suggest protecting some of the most endangered species, who are highly valued for their fins.
These include the Oceanic whitetip, several species of Hammerheads and the Porbeagle shark as well as two types of manta ray which are hunted for their gill plates. These are used in some Chinese traditional medicines.
The amendments would not ban the fishing of these species, but would ensure that catches are regulated – meaning that importers and exporters would require permits.
But with support closely divided between those in favour of extending protection and those who want to keep the status quo, some campaigners claim that unfair and underhanded tactics are being used to block the proposal.
“There’s been a lot of shenanigans and pressuring of developing countries,” Dr Susan Lieberman, director of international policy at the Pew Oceanic trust told BBC News at the meeting.
“It is going to be very close,” Dr Lieberman added.
Dr Lieberman said she believed that China and Japan were responsible for placing undue pressure on nations that do not have any great interest in the shark trade, especially countries in Africa and the Middle East.
She says they are concerned that a successful shark vote could set a precedent for regulating other fish species.
“Japan is not a big player in the shark trade but it is a philosophical issue. They don’t want Cites to deal with fisheries. They just want it off the table. For China, they just don’t want to implement this. ”
One delegate who wished to remain anonymous told BBC News that pressure from China and Japan was the “usual procedure” at these meetings.
The BBC has seen an anonymous leaflet designed to remind delegates that regulating the trade in small number of threatened shark species would be damaging.
“The livelihoods of fishermen would decline,” it says. “No conservation benefits would accrue.”
It is expected that a secret ballot will be called on the shark proposal, according to Dr Colman O’Criodain, who is attending this meeting on behalf of WWF international.
He also feels that China and Japan are bringing undue pressure on developing countries in particular.
“They certainly seem to be twisting arms from the feedback we are getting. They’re saying people have approached them,” he said.
WWF do not have any hard evidence that inducements are being offered.
But they point to the fact that many of the undecided countries in this vote do have strong trading relationships with China and Japan, and Dr O’Criodain believes this allows a more subtle form of pressure to be applied.
“They don’t necessarily have to explicitly be warned that these trade relationships are at risk to feel vulnerable, simply for China to approach them is already a certain measure of pressure that other countries simply wouldn’t feel to the same extent.”
“From everything we are hearing those approaches are going on,” he added.
Japan strongly denies doing anything underhanded or unfair.
The head of their delegation, Kenji Kagawa, told BBC News that his country is actually a supporter of shark conservation in the right environment.
“We have been explaining our position on the listing proposals of shark species to all parties and asking for their support. We understand that the proponents of these measures are doing the same thing.”
“Japan strongly believes that each Cites member should make a decision based on its own beliefs,” he added.
At present only a handful of sharks are offered some level of protection under Cites. These are the whale shark, basking shark, great white shark, and seven sawfishes.