GENEVA - The world should ban the export of Atlantic bluefin tuna, a UN panel declared yesterday, backing a proposal that is fiercely opposed by Japan, which prizes the fish as a key ingredient in sushi.
Atlantic bluefin populations have declined more than 80 percent since the 19th century, so establishing special protections is justified, said CITES, the UN group that oversees the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
Monaco is asking the 175 nations that are members of CITES to agree on a global ban on Atlantic bluefin exports at a meeting in Qatar’s capital of Doha from March 13-25. The plan is one of 42 conservation proposals CITES members will consider, along with similar trade bans on products from polar bears, some sharks, and other species.
The meeting will also decide whether to restrict or ease the ban on trade in elephant ivory, another hotly contested issue.
But the dispute over tuna - which pits most northern European countries against Japan and several Mediterranean fishing nations - will likely command the biggest attention because it threatens to wipe the iconic fish off the sushi menu.
Turkey, Spain, Greece, Italy, and Malta have thousands of jobs that depend on catching and shipping the fish to Japan, while France and Britain have signaled they would favor a ban.
Atlantic bluefin can reach 10 feet long and weigh more than 1,430 pounds. Japan buys 80 percent of the world catch, with Europe, South Korea, and the US sharing the rest.
The International Commission on the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna, which groups tuna-fishing nations, already sets quotas on the annual bluefin catch. It has reduced this year’s limit to 14,900 tons, down nearly 40 percent from 2009.