The body has been a strong tool for protecting land-based species – such as the elephant-ivory trade ban. It has helped preserve 5,000 species of animals and 28,000 species of plants – from over-exploitation by limiting international trade.
A few marine species – including whale sharks, white sharks, basking sharks, sea horses, and the hawksbill sea turtle – have won CITES protection. But none of those have a high economic value – not compared with the bluefin tuna, which can fetch $100,000 per fish at Japanese fish auctions.
Several marine scientists and environmentalists say that the results at this CITES meeting showed the body's inability to protect marine species in "the commons" where there are no defined borders. They say that lack of political will on the part of some countries, combined with economic self-interest on the part of other countries, trumped species protections even in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence of severe species decline.
"This failure is not because negotiators weren't doing their job," says Andrew Rosenberg, an adviser to President Obama's ocean policy task force. "It's because short-term economic interests dominated this conference. Some nations just could not give up the last remaining money to be made on tuna and shark fin soup."
Japan and other fishing and fish-consuming nations lobbied heavily against any restrictions, conferees told the Monitor. Despite support from the US and many European nations, developing nations were strongly swayed by Japanese arguments that trade bans would hurt their nations' economies, they said.
The Japanese, Ms. Griffin says, "hosted dinner at the Japanese embassy, and served blue tuna the night before the vote."