DOHA (Reuters) - Trade interests trumped conservation at a U.N. wildlife conference at which proposals to step up protection for polar bears, bluefin tuna, coral and several kinds of shark all fell flat, delegates said.
Economic concerns hampered efforts to restrict trade in several commercially lucrative marine species at the 175-nation Convention on International trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which wrapped up a two-week meeting in Doha, Qatar, on Thursday.
"As soon as big money gets involved, the 's' of science is crossed out by two vertical stripes," CITES Secretary General Willem Wijnstekers told reporters, meaning it becomes "$cience" spelt with a dollar sign.
"There is an enormous economic interest in catching and trading these species, and a CITES piece of paper is really a nuisance (for traders)."
Resistance from Asian countries, particularly Japan, to placing bluefin tuna on a protective list received most attention at this year's meeting.
Stocks of Atlantic bluefin tuna, prized as a sushi delicacy in Japan, have plunged more than 80 percent since 1970, according to CITES. Japan imports about 80 percent of the catch, mostly from the European Union.
"It's been a difficult conference from a conservation standpoint, perhaps because of the economic environment," U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Tom Strickland told Reuters.
"But the history of CITES is one built on supporting conservation over a period of time. We have a strong foundation, and often it takes several conferences to get things listed," he said. CITES meets once every 2-1/2 years.
Amid the disappointments for conservation advocates, there were some successes. Kenya scored a victory with its proposal to combat the escalation of rhino poaching by placing the animals on a protective list.
Rhinos in countries such as India, South Africa, Nepal and Zimbabwe are killed by organized crime groups that control the smuggling of rhino horns to the far east of Asia, where they are sold on the black market for thousands of dollars, CITES says.
Calls by Zambia and Tanzania to relax a trade ban on elephant ivory were rejected and Porbeagle sharks, hit by overfishing in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, also won protection.
However proposed protections for other sharks, which are caught as ingredients in shark's fin soup in Asia, failed. And a U.S. proposal to protect polar bears, which thrust the issue of climate change onto the agenda of the conference for the first time, was defeated.
(Editing by Alister Doyle and Noah Barkin)
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