A groundbreaking decision has been taken today by world governments that promises to turn the tide for shark conservation, with 54 species of shark awarded increased protections by the 19th Conference of the Parties (CoP19) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The CITES CoP19 Parties voted in committee to list all 54 species of the requiem sharks and hammerhead sharks on CITES Appendix II. This news places nearly all shark species traded internationally for their fins under CITES oversight and controls, up from only 25% prior to CoP19.
Appendices I, II and III to the Convention are lists of species afforded different levels or types of protection from over-exploitation; Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled. This is what many worldwide have fought for, arguing that the fishing pressure on these sharks is beyond unsustainable. “These two families constitute well over half of the shark fins traded annually in a half-billion dollar trade. Now no trade will be possible unless it is sustainable – giving these species a chance to recover, and the strength of CITES listings will drive stronger protections for sharks and rays around the world,” said Luke Warwick, Director of Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Shark and Ray Conservation. “The proposals adopted today for requiem and hammerhead sharks, championed by the Government of Panama, will forever change how the world’s ocean predators are managed and protected.”
The WCS isn’t the only organization applauding the success, with IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare) also welcoming the decision and rejoicing at the new sustainability requirements for international trade to be permitted. “IFAW applauds governments for this groundbreaking decision to control the unsustainable global trade in shark fins and meat, a trade which has pushed some of these ecologically important predators to the brink of extinction,” said Barbara Slee, IFAW’s Senior Program Manager of International Policy. Other organizations – like the Blue Resources Trust, Humane Society International, Shark Conservation Fund, and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation – conveyed similar remarks, stating that this vote will surely transform shark conservation by giving much needed protection for species that have long been overlooked. Added Slee: “Panama and its partner governments have offered a clear pathway for the survival of these species. IFAW has long advocated for such action and looks forward to working with governments to improve the management of shark fisheries that will result from this change.”
More than one-third of the world’s shark and ray species are now facing the threat of extinction, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared last year in the latest update to its Red List of Threatened Species. Research supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Pew Fellowship Program, the Roe Foundation, and the Shark Conservation Fund has found that more than 70% of shark species that end up in the global fin trade are at risk of extinction. The inclusion of nearly all species currently in the global shark fin trade means it will be far easier for customs and enforcement officials to ensure only legal and sustainable trade is taking place, as virtually any shipment of shark products will require a permit demonstrating that trade meets legal and sustainability requirements for international trade in CITES Appendix II listed species. At present there are few restrictions in place and most shark fisheries around the world have little to no management.
The requiem shark listing included 19 Critically Endangered or Endangered species and a further 35 species for lookalike reasons and was passed by 88 votes in support, with 29 against and 17 abstentions. CoP19 is scheduled to run until Friday (25th of November) and all listing proposals must be endorsed by the plenary session of the CoP on the final two days. Further shark and ray listing proposals are to be voted on shortly.