(Vancouver, Jan 16 ©TFN) The news this week that the International Law of the Sea conference would sponsor a radical global initiative to protect wildlife was as unexpected as it is promising. The usual fare at such meetings, held every few years, has too often been endless haggling over national fishing boundaries and quotas, which too often are seen as targets to be breached.
This year’s session has produced a major surprise.
Introduced under the inauspicious heading of “New Business” on the conference agenda was a proposal to expand international sea law to include a concept provisionally termed “Animals with Borders” (AWB). An obvious reference to the universally admired “Medecins Sans Frontieres” service founded in France, this is a Canadian initiative spearheaded by Martin McGlade, an academic humanist.
As the name suggests, AWB proposes that all trade in wildlife across national borders should be prohibited without specific permits. While this approach seems familiar when one thinks about smuggling ivory or tiger testicles, the proposal goes much further than protecting endangered species. The proposed law’s intention would be to block all international trafficing of any wildlife.
The conference attendees had seemed to be only half-interested, expecting a routine appeal for adherence to the world’s anti-poaching and exotic animal prohibitions which, granted, address an endemic and growing problem. McGlade’s paper soon was soon understood to be much more radical, and found unexpected support from the majority of attendees.
“All hell broke loose when I began to discuss fish exports,” McGlade recalls “even though the example I cited was obscure herring roe.”
In Canada the practice of exporting roe to Japan has come under scrutiny as a prime reason for the collapse of the salmon runs, and in turn the crash of the killer whale population that depends on them. McGlade detailed how, on Canada’s Pacific coast the ground fishery had been virtually wiped out of bottom fish, seen to have little value by North American consumers, yet eagerly bought up by overseas brokers such as those serving Russian mink farmers.
McGlade’s outlined solution to such matters would be radical indeed.
“The root cause of such environmental strip-mining is not lack of habitat for fish, but lack of protection of that habitat.” he explained. “It’s not just fish of course, it’s all animal species that live in the wild – fish, birds, mammals – any species not raised or farmed. We have no right to reap what we do not sow, and “harvesting” wildlife to export for profit is burglarizing Nature.”
The conference approved the commissioning of a report, to be presented at their next session in 2015, to study the viability of McGlade’s concept in International Law, under UN auspices. In particular, their memorandum cited the promise that developing countries would finally be able to afford their own fish, if they were not exposed to export prices. Commercial fishing would continue to be permitted for domestic consumption, but not for international markets.
McGlade mentioned the one aspect of his proposal that most excites him.
“The cost. It costs nothing to pass a global statute restricting the export of wildlife. All the habitat buybacks and parks and restoration in the world does little good if it just sets up game farms for human predators who have invested nothing. Let them farm them or find some other ‘business’ to get into. The era of exporting wildlife is over.”( Story by S. de Sturber) Conference spokespeople have not responded to requests for comments at the time of publication).