The proposal to ban trade in the declining species had been backed by the United States and the European Union. It was crushed by a vote at the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in Doha, with 68 votes against the measure, 20 in favour and 30 abstentions.
Japan, which has aggressively lobbied against the ban, said it “welcomed the rejection” and announced it would “continue [...] efforts to get understanding of our country’s position”.
US Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Tom Strickland lamented the vote as “a setback for the Atlantic bluefin tuna”, adding that the US would “keep fighting” for the sustainable management of fish stocks.
The European Union warned the rejection of the ban threatened the very future of the species.
“If action is not taken, there is a very serious danger that the bluefin will no longer exist,” said EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik.
Japan consumes three-quarters of the global catch of bluefin tuna, mainly in sushi and sashimi. On Japanese markets a single 220 kilo-fish can fetch some 120,000 euros.
Industrial-scale harvesting on the high seas has caused bluefin stocks to plummet by an estimated 80 per cent in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic, the two regions which would have been affected by the ban.
France opposed an immediate ban, saying it wants to wait for a report on stocks due in May next year.