Thursday, 14 Nov 2002

SANTIAGO, Chile

At 5 p.m. yesterday, the CITES conference finally got around to discussing toothfish; however, thanks to back-room negotiations, the issue was dead before it even reached the floor. The U.S. delegation has, apparently, been working all week behind the scenes with Australia (the proponent of the toothfish Appendix II listing) and Chile (the strongest opponent of the resolution) to craft a deal. The end result was that Chile’s proposal, which did little more than codify the status quo, was amended slightly, and Australia’s proposal, which offered genuine protections for toothfish, was introduced and immediately removed.

Obviously, this is a big blow to us — not to mention the poor toothfish! Limited debate was held on the amended Chilean proposal, and a member of our team was recognized and able to state our opposition officially, but by withdrawing their proposal, the Australians insured that no debate would be held on the idea of listing toothfish as an Appendix II species. This is particularly relevant because by addressing the issue of toothfish at CITES, the conference would have taken their first step towards regulating trade in commercial marine species, something that even the CITES Secretariat says is long overdue.

The brokered resolution that passed yesterday provides no additional protections for toothfish, and merely “encourages” CITES parties to participate voluntarily in the pre-existing toothfish trade regime managed by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. All nations are already invited by CCAMLR to participate in its trade tracking system — known in CCAMLR circles as the toothfish Catch Documentation Scheme.

There is, however, a small silver lining: CITES members that choose not to participate in CCAMLR’s CDS are encouraged to submit a report on their toothfish fishing and trade activities to the CITES Secretariat. What this means is that CITES is now officially involved, if only as an observer, in the toothfish trade and we have a foot in the door to raise this issue at the next CITES meeting, expected to be held in Bangkok in late 2004.

Osadia.

Thankfully, despite our loss on the floor, we did have one reason to celebrate last night: It was my birthday. Having something worth celebrating after losing on the one issue that we’ve been working on for weeks helped everyone’s morale, and last night’s meal at a hip new Chilean restaurant called Osadia (which means daring) was hands down the best food we’ve had since we got here. I had an amazing spinach malfatti in a red sauce that, it pains me to say, was better than the one I make at home, and halfway through the meal the entire kitchen staff came out — complete with two marionettes in cute little chef hats — and performed a rousing version of “Feliz Cumpleanos”! It was quite a night and a very memorable way to celebrate my birthday.

This morning the CITES delegates are debating the last of the remaining issues, and then things shift gear. Until this point, all debate and voting has taken place in committees. Now, all 160 nations must officially vote on each resolution. Usually, this is little more than a rubber stamp, but some issues remain contentious and the committee vote could be overturned by the full conference of delegates. The Chilean delegation’s toothfish resolution will almost certainly sail through and the Australian resolution will not be discussed at all. Sharks, elephants, and mahogany, however, still remain very controversial, with each of the committee votes having been extraordinarily close. If either side can pick up an extra vote or two, it will push to have issues reopened and to have a new round of voting. Conservationists still have great hopes for winning on the basking shark and whale shark proposals, each of which lost by only two votes, and the timber industry will almost certainly make a last minute effort to defeat the resolution that places all mahogany on CITES Appendix II. The mahogany issue has been brought to CITES for each of the last four meetings and finally passed this year by just two votes.

Tomorrow, I’ll let you know if any of these disputed issues managed to flip-flop during the final stage of debate.