On Saturday 13th July 2013, in a public forum held during the Singapore Animal Welfare Symposium and Public Forum on Animal Welfare Policies, Jennifer Lee (founder of marine conservation group Project: FIN) directed a question to Minister K. Shanmugam who was present at the public forum,[divide]
I would like to raise my concern about a series of decisions made by Singapore at the recent convention on int trade in endangered species, or cites in short.
At the recent Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) conference in mar this year, proposals to list endangered animals up for trade protection were discussed by the UN. The fate of these animals depends on the vote counts of the 178 member countries.
Singapore is represented by AVA, which would vote in favor or against these proposals. I was following the conference closely and I am disappointed with AVA’s decision to vote against most proposals meant for conserving endangered species. Not only did Singapore vote against protection of polar bears, Singapore has also rejected all proposals to list endangered sharks and rays up for trade restriction.
According to live tweets coming from the conference, AVA opposed to having any form of trade protection on these 5 endangered species of sharks because:
1) AVA “doesnt believe it is appropriate for CITES to regulate commercial marine species”
2) “Shark products are difficult to ID and it will be an admin burden and paralysis to the legitimate fishery trade”
I think it tells alot about our nation – that economy and worse of all – convenience – supercedes our conscience and responsibility towards the environment. As a singaporean, I feel ashamed that not only did we vote against protection, but when sharks won majority vote for trade protection, SG even joined a party to appeal for a round of revote, in an attempt to further prevent these endangered shark species from receiving the protection that they need.
I sincerely hope that Singapore could place greater efforts toward conserving endangered species.
In response to Jennifer’s question, Minister Shanmugam answered,
“You know, sharks is a very passionate issue for many people I understand but this is where an organization like AVA does have to take into account the majority’s view. It cannot go on basis of the minority movement. If you ask the majority of Singaporeans today and I have said this before, I am a minority but if you ask the majority of Singaporeans they are not supporters so you also need some societal changes.
There is no point criticizing AVA for reflecting the will of the people, the will of the people what is it? You go to the restaurant and you see, you look at what is being served , you look at what is the general approach, so what’s need to be done. I think we have on this issue we have to go for education, we have to go to being conflicting scientific reports that are being put forth to persuade people , but it depends on persuasion, it depends on NGOs working around it, it depends on society coming together a majority of society. Or a significant section of society coming forward and say today is a minuscule it is a small minority, passionate yes, but in terms of numbers it is a small number.”
“It is difficult for government agencies to take up positions”
“It is not a question simply of you know, you are embarrassed to be a Singaporean because AVA have given its position. You have to recognize there are other players as well. Having said that, I have had a word with Minister Tan Chuan Jin, the position to take in CITES, when we look at them. Our approach in international issues is two-fold, one is ethical we may look at the country’s interest, other pinned by an ethical approach but it has to be supported and supportable by our population. Any elected democratic has got to do that.”[divide]
Appendix II of CITES lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled.
Jennifer added in her comments,
Undoubtedly, like what Minister said, many Singaporeans still consume shark fins. But the question here really is, how many of these consumers actually specify the SPECIES of fins they want at a restaurant?
The CITES proposals only request for 5 of over 300 shark species to be regulated on Appendix II. Traders would be required to produce certificates in order to trade: Great hammerhead , smooth hammerhead , scalloped hammerhead, oceanic whitetip and porbeagle sharks.
The CITES proposals do not call for a complete ban of fins in totality, so listing these 5 endangered sharks up on CITES App II does not affect our citizens at all.
Do consumers actually demand for “great hammerhead shark fin” or “oceanic white-tip fin soup”? No. Will consumers get mad at the government if they are not able to get hammerhead shark fins and are served blue shark fins instead? No.
There should not be any concern that this decision will affect consumers because it does not.
The real impact of this additional level of protection goes not to consumers but to AVA, traders and people working at checkpoints because they now have to work to ensure that they abide to the international regulation surrounding these species – causing the “admin burden” mentioned by AVA.
Having said this, I am glad that Singapore failed in our attempt to not give these 5 sharks any form of protection – the proposals to list these 5 have been accepted at the conference and they are to be adopted by all CITES member countries.
AVA’s statements at the conference are worrying. ID guides for fins of these sharks are already available and I hope that the AVA will abide to decisions passed at the CoP and adopt measures to screen products from these sharks.
Why AVA voted against a ban on polar bear products (uplisting polars from Appendix II to App I) is also puzzling given that SG does not trade polar bear products. Polar bears are not only hunted for their pelts; their homes in the North are rapidly melting away, causing many to die from starvation / drowning in search of solid ice land. Unfortunately they have lost their chance of receiving full protection this year because they did not receive enough votes to push them up for trade protection. The next chance they have to fight for their survival would be 2 years later at the next conference of parties.
We could have abstained from voting but we chose to vote against protection for polar bears. Why?