RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's Christopher Joyce has a preview of the meeting.
CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: Sue Lieberman of the Pew Environment Group says that's unprecedented.
SUE LIEBERMAN: I am actually encouraged that the governments are really willing to take on these commercial fishing industries and take on, in effect, something that relates to foods. It's not just a curio or something like that. I think it will be very exciting.
JOYCE: Giant bluefin tuna are the behemoths of the tuna world. They can sell for tens of thousands of dollars each, especially in Japanese sushi markets. Mark Stevens is a tuna expert at the World Wildlife Fund.
MARK STEVENS: They're spectacular animals. They're as big as a horse, they can accelerate as fast as a Porsche. If these were the equivalent land animal, they would have been listed by CITES a long time ago.
JOYCE: Fishing for bluefin in the Atlantic is regulated already by a special fisheries organization, but Stevens says that group repeatedly allows many more fish to be caught than biologists recommend. Now the Atlantic bluefin is down to about 10 or 15 percent of its historical numbers. Stevens says most people don't know that because the animal itself is essentially invisible.
STEVENS: It's hidden under the water and thought of mostly as food rather than wildlife.
JOYCE: Lieberman from the Pew Environment Group says many smaller island countries support that proposal too.
LIEBERMAN: They're making a lot of money as a spot for dive tourism, shark tourism, and they don't want all their sharks going in trade and losing the tourism edge.
JOYCE: Sam Wasser is a biologist at the University of Washington.
SAM WASSER: All of this has created a situation where we now estimate that between eight to 10 percent of the existing elephants are being poached every year.
JOYCE: CITES governments have tried to replace the illegal market by allowing two legal sales of ivory since 1999. That's ivory from animals that die naturally or are culled to thin herds. Now Tanzania and Zambia are asking CITES for a third legal ivory sale. Some conservationists don't want that sale. Sam Wasser uses DNA from the poached ivory to track what part of Africa it comes from, and he says mostly Tanzania and Zambia.
WASSER: These countries are denying the extent of illegal activity in their country and the DNA essentially shows, no, this is really where the poaching is going on. You really need to do something about that.
JOYCE: Wasser says legal sales are not the way to do it. Others aren't so sure. Liz McLellan is a biologist with the World Wildlife Fund.
LIZ MCLELLAN: There's always going to be a market, and people will find a way of supplying it. So it's better if it's occasionally - as in the case of the last one-off sale - entirely controlled.
JOYCE: Christopher Joyce, NPR News.