Thursday, 4 November 2010

How has the COP10 biodiversity summit, that has just finished meeting in Nagoya, fared in the press? It appears that Japanese news media organisations continue to be upbeat while the reality presented by the meeting's outcomes is quite stark indeed. Many media organisations - and not just Japanese ones, although they have been particularly vocal in spruiking the conference - trumpeted the pledge by the parties to the convention to increase the amount of land and sea area given over to sanctuaries: 17 percent of land and 10 percent of sea by 2020. But the truth appears less encouraging for keen observer and Guardian columnist George Monbiot, who has written a column criticising the Convention on Biological Diversity for not releasing the final agreement. The Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP10) is chaired by Japan.

Monbiot says that the draft agreement of a month ago "contained no binding obligations" and suspects that the final agreement will deliver a similar outcome for governments to act on, if they wish. "No government, if the draft has been approved, is obliged to change its policies," Monbiot writes.

But the lack of binding obligations has not stopped Japan's media from continually trumpeting the importance of COP10, even in the most tangential and dishonest fashion, as is evident from a particularly disturbing story written by Asahi Shimbun reporter Akemi Kanda. It's probably not entirely warranted to dismiss the whole of the Japanese press corps on the basis of one article, but this one deeply fails to impress and suggests that they've resorted to whitewashing the grim reality that the meeting has failed to actually deliver anything of substance to the globe's ecospheres.

Ms Kanda has got approval to visit a fish market in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, and to talk to some of the locals involved in the industry. 'COP10/ Port thrives on sustainable fishing' blares the headline but the story tells us a very different story. The fishermen here once caught tuna but the size of the catch was so badly depleted they began to target blue sharks, Kanda writes. And longlines?
It is said that longline fishing--unlike round haul net fishing and other methods which use nets to catch whole schools of fish in one haul--can reduce overfishing.
So longline fishing is not as bad for fish stocks as "round haul net" (purse seine) fishing? That's news to me, but Kanda is betting that her readers will know no better. The rest of the article is dedicated to conveying the impression that by using everything from the sharks' bodies, local authorities are ensuring that fishermen and food processors are behaving "sustainably".
Fisheries industry officials here are trying to ensure the sustainable use of the species under increasing international pressure demanding shark resources be protected.
Movements to regulate shark fishing could emerge if numbers begin to decline or wasteful usage is seen.
As such, industry officials are trying not to catch immature fish, overfish or waste any part of the sharks caught.
Officials are "trying" to make sure fishermen are operating sustainably. Regulations "could emerge" under some conditions. And "industry officials are trying not to catch immature fish" (industry officials catching fish? Interesting thought, that).

The "sustainability" quotient in Kanda's story hinges simply on the matters of whether longlines are used to catch the sharks and whether the whole fish is processed or not. This latter caveat has nothing, in fact, to do with sustainability but that doesn't prevent Kanda from making hay while the COP10 sun shines. She also takes a gratuitous swipe at foreigners some of whom, she says, just take the fin and discard the rest of the shark's body:
It is said that illegal shark fishing occurs overseas and that only the shark's fin, which is sought as a luxury food item, is cut off and brought back to port.
The implication being that Japanese processing companies are better in sustainability terms than those foreigners who just cut off the fin and leave the shark to die in the water. This is a red herring. There is also absolutely no reference to COP10 in the story other than the lone mention in the headline, and the story singularly fails to address sustainability, with the notion of fish sanctuaries - apparently the most important outcome of the convention - being a most striking omission by the journalist.

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