Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Eels, sawfish get trade protection from U.N

A U.N. wildlife forum imposed trade restrictions on European eels on Monday and outlawed trade in shark-like sawfish, famed for a long toothed snout, to prevent a slip towards extinction. "The stock (of eels) is dangerously close to collapse," said Stellan Hamrin, a Swedish official, making a rare European Union proposal to curb a commercial European species. Eel prices have sometimes exceeded those of caviar after decades of overfishing.The U.N. Conference on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) voted 93-9 at the June 3-15 meeting for a system of permits to regulate international trade in European eels, worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year.Eels spawn in the Atlantic and grow to maturity in rivers and lakes across Europe and North Africa before swimming back to sea, making them vulnerable to threats including pollution, dams, a warming of the oceans and excessive catches."Overfishing is the single most important factor" in a precipitous decline of more than 95 percent in many areas, Hamlin said. Baby eels, or glass eels, fetch the highest prices when exported to the Far East where they are then farmed.Delegates also voted 67-30 to ban trade in sawfish, a type of ray related to sharks which brandish a toothed snout, of up to almost two meters, to attack and slice up smaller fish. Sawfish stocks are down 90 percent after decades of overfishing.CITES, one arm in a fight to slow a decline in species worldwide because of threats such as destruction of habitats and climate change, made an exemption to let Australia export one of seven species of the fish to aquariums abroad.Australia exports up to 10 live sawfish every year.Both the European eel and sawfish are rated "critically endangered" on a Red List of species compiled by experts of the World Conservation Union."Artisanal fisherman could retire after catching one sawfish," said Dorothy Nyingi, a Kenyan delegate who proposed the trade ban with the United States.She said the fins could fetch $443 a kg (2.2 lbs) and that the toothy saws, which the fish use to attack and slice up smaller fish, could cost $1,450 each. The saws were often exported to Japan, South Korea, Spain and Italy, she said.Australia won an exemption by arguing that its exports of live sawfish to aquariums would raise awareness of the fish abroad and contribute overall to conservation. Australia is the only country to export live sawfish."Sawfish in public aquaria help raise public awareness about a rare and iconic species found primarily in remote locations that are inaccessible to most," Australian delegate Kerry Smith told the conference.

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