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!