Trophy hunting and tuna fishing made for interesting bedfellows at the 2016 International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress last week.

Delegates from more than 160 countries gathered in Honolulu to vote on how best to address some of the world’s most pressing environmental issues, from wildlife trafficking and deforestation to ocean acidification and climate change.

On the table was an ambitious proposal to protect 30 percent of Earth’s oceans from extractive activities, such as fishing and oil drilling, by 2030.

Port of Honolulu fishing boats1. 23 may 2016.
Wespac has been criticized by many of being little more than a proxy of Hawaii’s longline fishing fleet, which catches tuna and swordfish. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Backers of the idea believe that if the IUCN — the biggest environmental organization in the world — would support such an initiative that governments and nonprofits from across the globe would work in concert to make it a reality.

(Here’s why scientists believe protecting 30 percent of the oceans is a good idea.)

The proposal passed with an overwhelming majority, with 653 member organizations voting “yes,” and only 43 opposed.

Among the naysayers was the Honolulu-based Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council — otherwise known as Wespac — a quasi-governmental agency that oversees commercial fisheries and is charged with maintaining a sustainable fishery. But Wespac often comes under fire for what’s seen as its support of Hawaii’s longline fishing industry over conservation.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that Wespac was one of only two U.S. organizations to vote against the measure. The other was the Safari Club International Foundation, a pro-hunting organization based in Tucson, Arizona, that advocates for wildlife conservation and hunters’ rights.

Wespac and Safari Club were joined by a number of others, mostly from China, as well as a handful of government agencies from Japan, China, Korea, Norway, South Africa and Vietnam. The Fur Institute of Canada and other groups representing Inuit interests also voted against the motion.

It’s not the first time Wespac has opposed ocean protection measures.

Recently, the council actively opposed President Barack Obama’s expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument, arguing that it served no conservation purpose and would only cut into fishermen profits.

The council pushed back against former President George W. Bush’s initial designation of Papahanaumokuakea as a marine monument.

Wespac did support a separate IUCN proposal, however, that called on the international community to push for more conservation on the high seas.

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