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GOVERNMENTS meeting on 13th March for the largest wildlife trade convention will have a unique opportunity to preserve the world’s oceans and simultaneously stem a worldwide poaching crisis.

At the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES CoP 15), Parties will consider an unprecedented six proposals for commercially exploited marine species. This is unusual because in the past CITES has focused more on terrestrial species.

Notably, the governments will consider putting Atlantic bluefin tuna on Appendix I of the Convention – the highest level of protection under its appendix system, which would ban all international commercial trade.

WWF will encourage Parties to accept this proposal, as well as asking for commitments to help stem a worldwide poaching crisis destroying tiger, rhino and elephant populations in Asia and Africa. 2010 is the Year of the Tiger in the Chinese lunar calendar; there is no better time to ensure an end to all tiger trade.

Heather Sohl, WWF-UK, wildlife trade officer, said: "Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks are at an all-time low following overfishing and illegal fishing to feed a rapidly expanding market in recent years for sushi and sashimi, mainly in Japan, but also increasingly in the United States and Europe.

"Insatiable demand has left the Atlantic bluefin tuna on the brink of extinction. This is the meeting where governments have an opportunity to stop pandering to the short-term interests of a bloated high-tech fishing industry and make a stand. If they don't we face losing an important species forever."

Overall, Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks have declined by over 85 per cent compared to maximum historical stock levels.

Other marine species up for increased protection under CITES include red and pink coral – being harvested out of existence to make jewelry and decorative items – and four shark species.

Proposals to put these four shark species on CITES Appendix II, which would ensure stricter trade controls, will be considered at the meeting. These sharks currently are overfished because of demand for their fins and meat.

In addition, government delegations also will consider steps they can take to help stem a worldwide poaching crisis destroying tiger, rhino and elephant populations in Asia and Africa.

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