Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Debate Over Global Shark and Ray Trade Heats Up

Debate is heating up on proposed protections for sharks and rays at a major global trade meeting. Shark conservation experts have united to urge governments to vote in favour of the measures and thereby ensure the survival of the threatened species. Roughly 150 of the 178 governments that are party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) are expected to vote on these proposals over the coming days.

“Sharks and rays, some of the most vulnerable marine species, are being overfished across the globe,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International, a project of The Ocean Foundation. “International trade is central to shark and ray depletion, and existing protections are woefully insufficient to reverse population declines.”

At the sixteenth meeting of the Conference of Parties to CITES, proposals from various governments to list oceanic whitetip sharks, porbeagles, hammerheads, manta rays, and freshwater sawfish under CITES, in order to limit international trade to sustainable levels, have strong backing from many non-governmental organizations, including a coalition of diverse conservation groups*.

The fins of hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks are prized and traded globally for use in Asian shark fin soup. Porbeagles are valuable for both fins and meat. Manta ray gills are increasingly sought and exported for Chinese medicine. The freshwater sawfish is the only species of sawfish that can still be legally traded for aquarium display. All of these species are classified by IUCN as threatened with extinction.

“We were disappointed to hear that the host country, Thailand, plans to oppose the listing of sharks and rays, yet exceptionally pleased that these proposals have the strong support of at least seven key West African countries, as announced yesterday on the floor by Senegal,” said Rebecca Regnery, Humane Society International’s Deputy Director for Wildlife.

Proponents of the various shark and ray listing proposals include the 27 Member States of the EU, Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Comoros, Costa Rica, Croatia, Ecuador, Egypt, Honduras, Mexico, and the USA. The listing proposals need a two-thirds majority vote to be adopted.

“CITES action is a vital and overdue part of the solution to global depletion of sharks and rays,” added Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust. “We are urging CITES Parties’ support for the proposals to control trade in these magnificent, essential species, and thus secure their future.”

*German Elasmobranch Association, Humane Society International, Project AWARE, Shark Advocates International, Shark Trust, and Wildlife Conservation Society.

Image courtesy of Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch