History was made today in Bangkok, when Parties to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) voted to protect five species of sharks and two species of manta rays. The seven protected species are: oceanic whitetip (Carcharhinus longimanus), porbeagle (Lamna nasus), scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini), great hammerhead (S. mokarran), smooth hammerhead (S. zygaena), oceanic manta ray (Manta birostris) and reef manta ray (M. alfredi).
All seven species are considered threatened by international trade â€“ the sharks for their fins, and the manta rays for their gills, which are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. CITES protection is an important complement to fisheries management measures, which, for these species, have failed to safeguard their survival.
The vote was to list the animals for protection under Appendix II which does not entail a ban on the trade, but instead means that trade must be regulated. Exporting countries are required to issue export permits, and can only do so if they can ensure that they have been legally caught, and that their trade is not detrimental to the speciesâ€™ survival.
All of the proposals received the two-thirds majority needed to be accepted â€“ but the listing is not yet final. Decisions can be overturned with another vote during the final plenary session of the meeting, which wraps up on Thursday. This is what happened with porbeagle sharks in the 2010 CITES meeting in Qatar â€“ an Appendix II listing approved by the Committee evaporated with another vote in plenary. As a result, at that meeting, none of the proposed shark species were granted protection. Now, three years later, weâ€™re hopeful that the international community finally sees the importance of regulating the trade that puts these animals at risk.
Keep your fingers crossed!
Today in Morocco the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) wrapped up. Contrary to its name, the ICCAT oversees more than just tuna, regulating a variety of highly migratory fish including several kinds of shark in the Atlantic and surrounding seas.
The takeaway from this year's ICCAT meeting was two-fold: for the beleaguered bluefin tuna which has been subject to extremely high fishing pressure in recent decades ICCAT acted prudently, leaving 2013 catch limits largely the same, even as tuna stocks showed signs of recovery. It was a welcome development from an organization that has sometimes put the interests of the fishing industry ahead of those of the fish.
But for vulnerable and largely unregulated species of shark like the porbeagle and shortfin Mako, ICCAT sat on its hands, rejecting measures that would set limits on mako and failing to adopt science-based proposals to protect endangered porbeagles.
In the New York Times Green blog, Oceana Europe fisheries campaign manager Maria Jose Cornax called the inaction on sharks â€śa baffling, contradictory approach".
"ICCAT must remove its blinders and look beyond this one fish [bluefin tuna] to the many other stocks for which it is responsible,â€ť she said.
Shark expert and Oceana Europe marine wildlife scientist Dr. Allison Perry condemned the abandonment of sharks at this yearâ€™s meeting.
â€śICCAT has failed to assume their responsibility for managing shark fisheries in the Atlantic. Allowing stocks to become seriously depleted, and then prohibiting their capture does not qualify as responsible management. Sharks represent more than 15% of all reported catches in ICCAT, yet most sharks caught in ICCAT fisheries remain completely unmanaged.â€ť
We often tell you about the threats facing sharks globally -- finning, bycatch, overfishing -- but we donâ€™t regularly shine a spotlight on the individual species affected.
To continue our ongoing shark-themed posts in honor of Shark Week, here are 10 of the most threatened shark species in the world:
1. Basking sharks are the second largest shark, easily distinguished by their huge, filter-feeding mouths. Basking sharks are caught in target fisheries around the world for their oil, meat and fins, and they are also caught as bycatch in other fisheries.
2. Blue sharks are one of the most previously abundant shark species. Now they are the most heavily fished shark in the world. An estimated 10-20 million individuals are killed by fisheries annually, mostly as bycatch. Blue shark meat is beginning to replace swordfish in many Mediterranean countries and the fins are commonly used in shark fin soup.
3. Deep-sea sharks have huge livers that contain high amounts of oil to regulate their buoyancy at depths. As a result, they are caught by deep-sea trawls, gillnets and longlines for an oily substance found in their livers called squalene. Squalene, or its derivative squalane, is found in many cosmetic products.
This is the seventh in a series of posts from CITES. Check out the rest of the dispatches from Doha here.
Eight shark species have been proposed for listing to Appendix II of CITES, including the oceanic whitetip, scalloped hammerhead, dusky, sandbar, smooth hammerhead, great hammerhead, porbeagle and spiny dogfish.
Listing these species, which are threatened by shark finning, is necessary to ensure international trade does not drive these shark species to extinction.
Here's Oceana's Ann Schroeer from our Brussels office with an optimistic outlook on the upcoming shark proposals at CITES.