Obama Administration Won't Sign On to Measure to Protect Bluefin Tuna

"As a result, the best vehicle we have to save these fish from commercial extinction may not be deployed, further accelerating the demise of what some people call the 'world's greatest fish,'" he said.

The next meeting of the parties to CITES is March 2010 in Doha, Qatar, but the deadline to submit proposals and co-sponsorships was today.

Bluefin tuna is not what Americans eat on sandwiches for lunch. It is an expensive tuna, used mostly for sushi, in high-end restaurants.

Environmental groups say U.S. fishermen should have a vested commercial interest in seeing the bluefin stock recover, but leaders in that industry disagree.

Ruias, of the American Bluefin Tuna Association, said his organization would "fight to our last breath" against a CITES listing for the fish because of the damaging impact it would have on U.S. commercial and recreational fishermen.

"The CITES listing would ban U.S. fishermen from shipping fish to Japan and Japan is a very good market destination for us, especially when the yen is at the level it's at now," Ruias told ABC News. "A CITES listing would hurt us dramatically" because the domestic market is not strong enough to maintain profitability.

Ruias estimated the monetary damage of the international trading ban to the U.S. commercial and recreational fishing industry at over $100 million a year.

Reichert said that bluefin tuna is a classic example of fisheries mismanagement in which good science has been sacrificed to politics and money.

"It's perhaps the most valuable fish in the sea, it generates significant income for those who catch it, and is in huge demand in Japan where it is highly prized for sushi," Reichert said.

Bluefin Tuna Population at Risk

Ruias dismisses the evidence that the bluefin is threatened to the point of extinction.

"There is not a credible scientist, in our view, in the world that would suggest that fishermen could fish a fish like bluefin tuna to biological extinction," Ruias said.

Ruias said the U.S. has "religiously followed scientific advice" since 1974 on quota reductions and other measures to protect the bluefin, and points the finger at Mediterranean countries for not taking bluefin tuna conservation seriously.

"An Appendix 1 listing to bluefin would punish, inflict severe economic injury, devastate fishing families," in the United States, Ruias stated in a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last month. "What possible justification can be given for such a cruel and unfair treatment of U.S. and Canadian fishermen in the West Atlantic?"

The CITES imposed ban on international trading could have lasted indefinitely or until scientists determined that the stock had recovered sufficiently.

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