Group urges protection of marine life

By Daniel Lovering BANGKOK, Thailand, AP

Wildlife conservation groups on Wednesday called for greater protection for marine species, particularly whales and fish threatened with extinction due to commercial trade.

“We’ve overfished ourselves,” said Will Travers, president of the Species Survival Network, a network of nearly 80 activist organizations. “Frankly, it’s become a global issue.”

Proposals to legitimize or thwart trade in the animals are expected to be tabled at a meeting of the United Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, in Bangkok starting Saturday.

The agreement, established in 1975, has increasingly focused on marine life in recent years as awareness has grown about the scarcity of some sea species.

Earlier, it was “more difficult to discuss fish” because of the huge industrial and commercial interests, said Travers whose group wants legislation to regulate or halt the trade in minke whales, the Irrawaddy dolphin, the humphead wrasse and great white sharks, among other aquatic species.

Representatives from the 166 signatory countries to CITES are expected to review a worldwide list of endangered species, which is meant to offer protections to some 30,000 animals and plants. Some 50 proposals are expected to be submitted during the two-week meeting.

Sue Fisher, executive director of the U.S.-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, called for the rejection of an expected proposal by Japan to allow some populations of minke whales to be hunted for scientific purposes.

“This is just not the place this proposal should be discussed. It’s a nasty proposal,” she said.

Japan and Norway have continued to hunt the whales, allegedly for research, despite an international ban on commercial whaling introduced by the International Whaling Commission in 1982. CITES banned the commercial sale of whale products four years later.

Japan, Norway and Iceland have lobbied to reintroduce commercial whaling, and together hunt and kill more than 1,500 whales annually, Fisher said.

Thailand is expected to call for a ban on trade of the Irrawaddy dolphin, which is native to Southeast Asia and sought after by zoos, particularly in Japan and Singapore, for its pleasing appearance and ability to perform tricks.

The species is critically endangered in the wild because of threats posed by fishing nets, explosives used for fishing and environmental damage to its natural habitat by gold mining and other operations, Fisher said.

Other proposals include a bid by Australia and Madagascar to have great white sharks protected through new trade restrictions and proposed protection for the humphead wrasse, a Pacific reef fish.