Thursday, February 28, 2013

CITES4sharks Coalition launches website ahead of CoP16 in Bangkok next week

CITES4sharks launches today and with the support of Oceans 5, will be working together to secure CITES listings for shark and ray species at the 16th Conference of Parties starting next week. 

Government representatives will vote on proposals to list under the CITES Appendices a record number of shark and rays species, including the oceanic whitetip shark, the porbeagle, three types of hammerheads, both manta rays, and the freshwater sawfish.

All of these species are classified by IUCN as threatened. Existing limits are insufficient to reverse declines in their populations.

Sharks and rays are at great risk across the globe. Most species grow slowly, mature late, and produce few young, leaving them particularly vulnerable to overfishing. The IUCN classifies roughly one-third of assessed shark and ray species as threatened or Near Threatened. This depletion jeopardises ecosystems, livelihoods, and, in many cases, eco-tourism.

International market demand has been a significant factor in the decline of shark and ray populations. Shark fins, used in an Asian celebratory soup, are among the world’s most valuable fishery products. Shark and ray meat is particularly prized in Europe while the gills of some rays are sought for Chinese medicine. International trade in the vast majority of shark and ray species is virtually unregulated.

CITES: a vital tool for shark conservation

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) facilitates conservation through the listing of qualifying species under its Appendices. CITES Appendix I is reserved for highly threatened species that may be affected by trade, and results (essentially) in a ban on international commercial trade. Appendix II includes species that are threatened by trade or may become so without strict controls. Appendix II listing mandates export permits that are issued after take is demonstrated to be legal and sustainable. CITES currently has 177 Parties which meet about every three years. A two-thirds majority vote is required for adoption of listing proposals.

Because international trade is central to the exploitation of sharks and rays, CITES can be a vital tool for conserving these species. Currently, however, only the basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus), whale shark (Rhincodon typus), white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), and “freshwater” sawfish (Pristis microdon) are listed in CITES Appendix II. All other Pristis species, but no other ray or shark species, are included in Appendix I.

Image courtesy of Allie_Caulfield via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)