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Proposals to prohibit international trade in bluefin tuna caught in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea were voted down March 18 at a U.N.-sponsored meeting in Doha, Qatar, attended by representatives of signatory states to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Japan, a big consumer of bluefin tuna, had feared the proposed ban would be adopted, but a larger-than-expected number of countries came out against it. China persuaded developing nations in Africa and elsewhere that are receiving economic assistance and investment from China to join it in opposing the ban. There was also division among member nations of the European Union.

Sixty-eight countries voted against a proposal by Monaco to add bluefin tuna to the so-called Appendix I, which would result in a complete trade ban, with 20 voting in favor and 30 abstaining. On an EU-tabled proposal to delay the Appendix I listing until May 2011, 72 countries voted against and 43 in favor, with 14 in abstention.

Japan should not view the results in terms of victory or defeat. Most important is that it faces up to the fact that the bluefin tuna resources are in decline. The catch of bluefin tuna in the Atlantic Ocean, once 300,000 tons, is now less than 80,000 tons. Japan should be no less concerned about this fact than the countries calling for a ban on international trade.

Japan’s stance on the issue is inconsistent with efforts by the agriculture and fisheries ministry and the Fisheries Agency, which have stressed the importance of increasing Japan’s food self-sufficiency and promoted the consumption of locally grown food. Although fish supplies in waters around Japan are abundant, Japan imports large amounts of seafood: some 80 percent of bluefin tuna caught in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea is consumed in Japan.

It is important for Japan to be aware of how other countries perceive it. It should take the lead in working to maintain the global tuna population by imposing limits on the annual catch. If tuna prices rise, people will simply have to eat less tuna.

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