Friday, March 15, 2013

Shark Protections Upheld as Wildlife Trade Meeting Ends

Government Parties to the world’s only wildlife trade treaty yesterday confirmed measures to protect sharks and rays and tropical hardwoods and to take action against countries doing little to stop the illegal trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn.

On the final day of the 11-day meeting of the 179 Parties to the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species, CITES, the meeting reached a climax when two countries attempted to overturn protections for sharks agreed in committee earlier this week.

Japan and Grenada attempted to reopen debate on the oceanic whitetip and hammerhead shark proposals respectively, but both narrowly failed to gain the needed one-third majority. The proposals for the porbeagle shark, freshwater sawfish and manta rays were adopted without objection.

The oceanic whitetip, Carcharhinus longimanus; scalloped hammerhead, Sphyrma lewini; great hammerhead shark, Sphyrna mokarran; and smooth hammerhead shark, Sphyrna zigaena, are harvested by the millions each year for their valuable fins and the porbeagle shark, Lamna nasus, for its meat.

The porbeagle shark received protection after two unsuccessful attempts at previous CITES Conference meetings. Ireland, on behalf of the European Union, presented the proposal and announced an implementation package of 1.2 million euros to help developing countries implement the porbeagle shark listing and protect other marine species.

From now on, these five shark species will be listed on CITES in Appendix II, which allows regulated trade. Traders must have CITES permits and provide evidence that the sharks are harvested sustainably and legally.

“This is a historic step towards better protection of these marine species,” said Nick Dulvy, co-chair of the Shark Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. “Now, after nearly two decades of slow and fragmentary progress, Parties agreed that CITES can complement existing national fisheries measures to ensure that global trade is sustainable and legal.”

Ecuador’s proposal to list manta rays on Appendix II was adopted by CITES member governments. Manta rays are slow-growing migratory animals with small, highly fragmented populations. They have among the lowest reproductive rates of any marine animals, with females giving birth to only one pup every two to three years, making them extremely vulnerable to overexploitation.

Manta gill plates, the feathery structures rays use to filter plankton from the water, fetch high prices in international markets and have been traded in increasing numbers over the past 20 years for use in traditional Chinese medicine. Sellers claim products made from manta gill plates can treat asthma, skin rashes, chicken pox and even cancer, although there is no evidence to support any of these claims.

The polar bear, threatened by climate change and trophy hunting, was proposed by the United States for listing on CITES Appendix I, which bans commercial trade, but the proposal failed to get the required two-thirds majority for acceptance.

Source: Environment News Service

Image courtesy of puuikibeach via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)