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ABS and the Ornamental Aquatic Industry

Posted: July 22, 2011, 4:30 p.m., EDT

Click to enlarge.
Breeders of aquarium fish in CBD member countries may need to apply for permission to do so from countries of origin—and come to an appropriate arrangement under the Protocol. How will the U.S. and other non-parties approach this?
Photo by John Dawes
Access and benefit sharing, an issue with immense implications for the ornamental aquatics industry, is back in the news. In reality, it’s never gone away, but the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD’s) 10th Conference of the Parties (CoP) held in Nagoya, Japan, from October 18 to 29, 2010, definitely brought the issue into sharp focus again.

The ABS Protocol, or the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair Trade and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization/////ITAL/////, was adopted at the 10th CoP after it had been discussed and negotiated over a seven-year period. It was subsequently opened for signature at the U.N. headquarters in New York on February 2, 2011, and will remain open until February 1, 2012. At the time of writing, 13 countries had already signed: Colombia, Yemen, Algeria, Brazil, Mexico, Rwanda, Ecuador, the Central African Republic, Republic of Seychelles, Mali, Sudan, Peru, Panama and India. Though the protocol should be in force by July 2012, this may turn out to be overly optimistic, since there are huge and complex issues that need to be resolved. For instance, states are given sovereign rights over their biological (i.e., genetic) resources. For the aquatics industry, this means the countries of origin of the numerous fish, invertebrate and aquatic plant species in trade today—or in the future—will be in a position to determine how access to these resources is controlled.

The protocol considers the utilization of genetic resources as consisting of “research and development on the genetic and/or biochemical composition of genetic resources.” While this doesn’t specifically refer to the commercial breeding of ornamental aquatic species, such activity could easily be interpreted as research and development since numerous wild-type species are selectively bred into varieties within the industry.

Even if we were only talking about a single new species entering the trade for the first time, the procedures that will need to be followed to comply

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The owners of traditional knowledge in countries of origin must grant their informed consent or approval and be involved in some way in the development of their genetic resources.
Photo by John Dawes
with the requirements of the protocol are not likely to be straightforward. Also, if the procedures also need to be applied to long-established species—such as the guppy, for instance, where details of origin cannot be determined with any precision and where more than one country of origin may be involved—the complexity, obviously, escalates. Even if agreement were to be reached, the question remains as to whether there would be a retrospective component to this, with backdated license/royalty payments or other arrangements being demanded.

Then, there are questions about traditional knowledge and how to handle it, and the role of non-parties, the most notable of which is the U.S. According to the protocol, “The Parties shall encourage non-Parties to adhere to this Protocol and to contribute appropriate information to the Access and Benefit-sharing Clearing-House.” Really? It will, undoubtedly, be very interesting to see how this pans out.



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