Bluefin tunaThe Atlantic bluefin may be down, but it’s not out. After delaying a decision, the Obama administration came out today in support of a proposal to declare the bluefin an endangered species and to ban international trade in the threatened fish (via The Washington Post):

The U.S. government announced Wednesday that it supports prohibiting international trade of Atlantic bluefin tuna, a move that could lead to the most sweeping trade restrictions ever imposed on the highly prized fish.

Sushi aficionados in Japan and elsewhere have consumed bluefin for decades, causing the fish’s population to plummet. In less than two weeks, representatives from 175 countries will convene in Doha, Qatar, to determine whether to restrict the trade of bluefin tuna — valued for its rich, buttery taste — and an array of other imperiled species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Late last year, Monaco proposed listing Atlantic bluefin tuna under the treaty’s Appendix I, which amounts to a total ban. The Obama administration did not immediately endorse the proposal, a move that sparked widespread criticism from American marine scientists and ocean activists. But Tom Strickland, assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks at the U.S. Department of the Interior, privately backed the proposal from the outset.

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Japan, the world’s largest bluefin consumer, opposes the idea of trade restrictions, while the European Union has yet to take a formal position.

In an interview Wednesday, Strickland said the U.S. decided it needed to push for the extraordinary new protection because “the regulatory mechanisms that have been relied upon have failed to do the job.”

Strickland himself will lead the U.S. delegation at the CITES meeting, which suggests that this strong message of support for the bluefin will be repeated there. And it will certainly take a united international front to save the fish. While the E.U. itself may not have taken a stand, many member countries such as Spain, Italy, and France have come out in support — and the European Commission has urged members to support it as well (although they may ask for a delay in implementation). Japan, on the other hand, which consumes 80 percent of the bluefin caught in the Mediterranean, is already on the record as unwilling to observe the ban.

It’s worth noting, as the WaPo piece does, that the bluefin is not the only fish on the menu table agenda at the upcoming CITES meeting. A group of sharks, including the hammerhead, are also up for protection — two of which, the spiny dogfish and the porbeagle, are primarily caught in U.S. waters and do not have U.S. support for a ban. Still, this is the first hopeful sign for the bluefin tuna in quite some time. After all, the goal is to return tuna populations to sustainable levels — and right now this ban is its last, best hope.

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