Japan wrested a major concession at a world wildlife conference Tuesday when Sweden withdrew its proposal to ban trade in bluefin tuna after fierce lobbying by Tokyo.
Bluefin tuna is prized by Japanese raw-fish lovers.Sweden scrapped the proposal at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in response to a pledge by Japan, Canada, the United States and Morocco to cut their Atlantic bluefin tuna fishing quotas.
The announcement was made after much behind-the-scenes discussion between Sweden and Japan. Speculation was high that Sweden might succumb to pressure and withdraw.
Sweden had proposed putting western Atlantic bluefin tuna in Appendix I of the Cites convention, which bans commercial trade, and listing eastern Atlantic bluefin on Appendix II which allows limited trade.
Fisheries cooperatives and sushi shops have demonstrated at Cites with banners reading "We oppose Sweden's proposal!"
Japan is the world's biggest consumer of bluefin tuna, accounting for about 40 percent of the global market.
"There is no direct correlation between demand and conservation of resources," Koji Imamura of Japan's Fisheries Agency said. "It is just that Japan pays a high price for the bluefin and creates a good market, but others take a lot of the fish as well," he said.
A U.S. fishing boat may spend two weeks out in the Atlantic waiting for a bluefin since one giant tuna can fetch up to $30,000.
Greenpeace condemned the governments of the United States, Canada and Japan for uniting to force the withdrawal of Sweden's proposals.
Sweden's proposal was based on data from the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (Iccat) that says the number of sexually mature bluefins has declined by some 90 percent since 1970.
Japan also uses Iccat data pointing to the fact that there has been a recent upturn in the numbers.
Sweden said that a number of experts have judged Atlantic bluefin tuna to be threatened with extinction.
What was achieved Tuesday was a draft resolution - not binding even if passed - put forward by Japan, the United States, Canada and Morocco for Iccat to meet in special session at the end of May to consider further reduction of their quotas to 50 percent of the 1991 level.
The four countries said at a joint news conference they would cooperate on reducing quotas.