Landmark decision at wildlife conference provides hope for imperiled sharks

CITES session on shark proposals
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In a momentous move at the World Wildlife Conference, participant countries decided to provide trade-related protections to not one but two families of sharks on 17 November. Shark species desperately need safeguarding – overall, their populations are nosediving. Many sharks, along with rays and chimeras, are at risk of extinction. Overfishing is the primary cause of their demise.

The decisions specifically relate to protections for requiem sharks and hammerhead sharks. CoP19 host Panama put forward the proposal on the former, with the European Union (EU) championing the latter. Countries involved in the deliberations reached their conclusion on protecting requiem sharks by vote and hammerhead sharks by consensus.

Read on...

The official name of the conference is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora’s (CITES) conference of the parties (CoP19). This two-week long event brings together governments to make decisions that will determine the fate of hundreds of species.

The decisions are preliminary, and the parties – meaning countries – need to confirm them later on in the conference. But that hasn’t stopped shark advocates from celebrating the win for the threatened marine dwellers.

A game-changer for sharks

The success of the proposals on providing protections for the sharks mean that CITES is on course to add them to its list of Appendix II species. The body regulates the international trade in wildlife and lists the species it oversees in three appendices. These listings ostensibly relate to how at risk the included species are, and the trading rules differ accordingly.

It’s important to emphasise, however, that CITES-listed species are generally still subject to trade and exploitation, with allegations of illegality, corruption, and fraud spotlighting the body’s inefficiencies.

A number of advocacy groups took to Twitter to celebrate the decisions:

In a statement after the vote on requiem sharks, senior director of wildlife for Humane Society International, Rebecca Regnery, also said:

CITES is the best chance we have to address the ravaging of shark populations throughout the world’s oceans for the shark fin trade. This vote indicates how many countries realize the extreme threat this trade poses to sharks and rays and to healthy oceans.

The fishing industry targets sharks for their body parts, such as their meat and fins. According to the Marine Stewardship Council, a handful of countries dominate the sales side of the trade. These are the US, Spain, Mexico, Indonesia, and India. Most of the consumption of sharks happens elsewhere though, with the largest importers of meat being Italy, Spain, Brazil, and Uruguay. Countries in East and Southeast Asia are the primary destination for fins.

The blue shark makes it through

The decision on protecting requiem sharks – covering 54 species in all – included the blue shark. This is the “the most heavily fished shark in the world”, according to Shark Stewards.

As the Canary recently reported, the blue shark is near threatened, meaning that protection could help to limit any further drift of the species towards extinction. But as a major target of the fishing industry, its inclusion was among the most hotly contested elements of the proposal on the requiem family. Unsurprisingly, the debate and vote were heated, with strong opposition to the inclusion of all the family from Japan in particular.

But ultimately, the proposal passed, backed by 88 parties. The World Conservation Society’s Luke Warwick explained what the decision on requiem sharks broadly means:

Before this decision around 25% of sharks subject to the fin trade were protected. With this about 70% of sharks will be protected and countries will have to take measures for proper management.

Another proposal to protect the guitarfish family, which are rays, also succeeded on 18 November. This strengthens safeguards for Chondrichthyes – the vertebrate class sharks and rays belong to – further still.

A fighting chance

Over the past 420 million years or more, sharks have proven themselves to be survivors, making it through a number of major extinction events on Earth. But modern humans, who have only walked the earth for around 300,000 years, have stretched sharks’ resilience to the limit.

If these decisions turn out to be the game changer for sharks that many hope, perhaps they stand a fighting chance of making it through the Anthropocene, aka the era of human impact.

Featured image via CITES / YouTube screenshot

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  • Show Comments
    1. Now. It seems a win but whot about the nation’s outside who won’t adear to its goals I’m afraid shark fin soup will carry on look at the blue whales they feed in the south pole on krill yet big chemical plants use this tomake pills advertising on TV to us to keep us fit. Who save the blue whale if most of its food ends up in tablets

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