Bought, sold, traded, gone extinct? CITES to the rescue

Tropical timber being transported through Cameroon (2007)Many plants and animals are traded on international markets but you may not often pay attention to the fact that so many of the commodities you come in contact with on a day to day basis are derived from endangered species because often by the time you buy them in a store they have been processed. However: your furniture may be made of mahogany wood, your sushi lunch might have been bluefin tuna, and you may be wearing a necklace of red and pink coral. All of those species are at risk of going extinct, because of trade. For this reason, about 176 countries sign up to an agreement to work together to manage this by evaluating whether or not the level of trade in a species is sustainable, and if it’s not either banning trade or setting up quotas to regulate the trade and thus keep the harvesting of the species in the wild under control. The international treaty is called CITES (Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species).
I just spent the last two days in a meeting with colleagues discussing how to deal with marine species that are listed on CITES and I have to say, this is serious business. Death threats, serious political behind-the-scenes action, lobbying campaigns, and months of strategizing.

There are challenges even once a species is listed on the convention: how do you deal with fish that are caught at sea outside the bounds of national jurisdiction where it is not clear which country should have the responsibility to issue the permit to sell those fish?

What do you do with the countries that don’t comply? How much time do you give them to get their act together to maintain some political capital in your negotiations with them? What if the species is declining so fast that there is no time to give the country a chance?

I even learned that one hypothesized reason that the majority of pink and red coral species (the Corallium genus) are not yet on CITES is because they were the last item on the agenda after a day of particularly frustrating negotiations, and according to experts who know that this creature has been seriously depleted for the jewelry trade, the Parties voted against the proposal and it may just been out of spite, fatigue, inattention, or lack of clear information.

The growing carbon footprint of shipping

Photo by blentley courtesy of Flickr
Did you know that shipping may account for 3% of global C02 emisssions and the industry is growing 3% annually? To make this a somewhat more visual: there are 90,000 ships at sea.
To put this in perspective I decided to look up the percent of CO2 from aviation and found figures ranging from 2 to 20% (through a quick Google search), so there may be a similar range of estimated values for shipping if you were to look deeper. Nonetheless, what really struck me was the rate at which shipping is growing – a rate which is harder to criticize than increased aviation because trade is so directly tied to the global economy and development. It’s probably going to keep growing and it is hard to argue against that. Here are a few points to know about shipping in context of global climate policy:

  • shipping has largely been left out of the Kyoto Protocol due to complexities…
  • Long range transport ships use dirty fuel, aka ‘bunker fuel’ or ‘residual fuel’
  • European environment commissioner now wants it to be considered
  • The International Maritime Organisation represents the industry and says it is working on ways to curb CO2
  • Some complexities include: emissions are a function of trade and trade is increasing, only 25% of ships are registered in developed countries (so would compliance with Kyoto be voluntary for the other 75%?)

With the EC pushing a proposl forward for an emissions trading scheme for shipping and aviation (trying to get the EU to endorse it) this will be on the table at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. Full article

Fishery closed due to climate change

For the first time ever a fishery has been closed due to climate change:
“A federal fishery panel voted Thursday [05.02.2009] to close off a large swath of the Arctic sea to commercial fishing. The move was a pre-emptive measure to protect more than 150,000 square nautical miles north of the Bering Strait that have become more accessible as a result of the warming Arctic climate.” (NY Times 05.02.2009)

The article goes on to say that the closure was largely supported by industry and conservation groups. I can’t tell if this is unusually good news or if there is something suspect – maybe industry doesn’t think there are marketable fish there anyway.

While looking into this I also read that the Bering Sea is the source of most of the fish consumed in the US – I did not know this and need to look into this further to see if it is true and what type of fish are caught in the Bering Sea.

Full article in the NYTimes
North Pacific Fishery Management Council
Place where fishery was closed: Bering Sea

A lot of lobster

I used to think of lobster as a chewy inferior version of crab, but then I learned how cool they are: some of the spiny lobsters can migrate hundreds of kilometers in single file! In any case, for many people a lobster dinner is a serious treat, and I hadn’t really appreciated how popular it is until I read this today on Reuters: “James Hook & Co, a Boston fish merchant that sells about 50,000 pounds (23,000 kilograms) of lobster each week.”
That’s 1,196,000kg of lobster sold per year, by one merchant in one city. If you consider that one lobster (Homarus americanus) weighs about 0.57kg, the Hook family is selling over 2 million lobsters a year! It seems like that would be a conservation issue, but apparently eating Maine lobster is okay environmentally. On the other hand you need to be careful when eating Caribbean spiny lobster – especially if it is imported to the US.

Spiny lobsters are fascinating: some migrate hundreds of kilometers to find deeper, calmer waters for breeding…in single file. If they are attacked, they may back up into a rosette-formation for defense. Pretty cool.

At one point a fishery in Australia tried to reduce incidental catch of under-sized lobsters and ended up making traps that were accidentally catching seals. Luckily they were able to find a solution and the lobster fishery is now well-managed with reduced bycatch.

Lots on lobster conservation
Source of some of my stats here