By Luke Warwick
January 4, 2019
The world’s intergovernmental wildlife trade and conservation convention, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), meets this coming May in Colombo, Sri Lanka. At that meeting, shark and ray conservation will again be a high priority for the 183 Parties (member governments) to the convention, as they decide which species deserve additional protections against unsustainable or illegal trade.
Sharks and rays are a priority because (as announced today by the CITES Secretariat) proposals have just been submitted to list a record 18 species of sharks and rays on Appendix II of CITES. The proposals mandate that any continued trade is sustainable and legal, and recognizing that the species may become threatened with extinction if their trade is not properly regulated. The inclusion of these species on CITES Appendix II will further cement CITES’s growing role in shark and ray conservation.
The 18 species include the flattened relatives of sharks called wedgefish and giant guitarfish, two of the worlds most threatened families of sharks and rays, whose fins are the most expensive in international markets, where they are prized for use in shark fin soup.
Also proposed for CITES Appendix II are the world’s fastest sharks, the shortfin and longfin mako. These two species are highly valued for their meat, along with their fins, and are caught in huge numbers globally in commercial and recreational fisheries — with some populations, such as those in the North Atlantic, already showing signs of collapse. The world’s fastest sharks will quickly disappear unless far better management is put in place immediately. The CITES listing is key to saving these species.
“With these proposals, there is now hope for these 18 depleted species of sharks and rays.”
With these proposals, there is now hope for these 18 depleted species of sharks and rays. Sixty-one countries, from every continent, have added their name as ‘co-sponsors’ to one or more of the three listing proposals (61 for wedgefish; 55 for mako; and 54 for guitarfish).
This represents the highest level of co-sponsorship for any proposal in the more than 40-year history of the CITES Convention. The co-sponsors include both developed and developing countries, further demonstrating that a wide range of member governments realize the need for CITES to regulate the global trade in shark fins, along with other products such as meat, to help prevent unsustainable and illegal trade from driving these ecologically critical predators toward extinction.
The next step will be a formal discussion and a vote on these proposals at the CITES meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) in a few months, in late May. With this record number of sharks and rays being considered for listing, and record co-sponsorship of those proposals from all corners of the globe, it is clear that listing these species will be a top priority for many of the Governments in attendance.
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Luke Warwick is Associate Director for Sharks and Rays at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).