Convention on Migratory Species CoP13

Sharks — Migrating into Troubled Waters

By Luke Warwick | February 13, 2020

Oceanic whitetip shark, proposed for CMS Appendix I listing. Photo credit: Jim Abernathy

ext week, the Convention on Migratory Species will hold its thirteenth Conference of the Parties. For the first time, it will be held in India, where 100+ Governments will debate the workings of the convention, and look at whether additional migratory species need stronger protections.

In 2017, after the successful conclusion of the last CMS CoP in Manila, WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) and other groups focusing on shark conservation celebrated the listing of additional species on the convention and looked ahead to securing a future for these vulnerable marine predators.

We noted then that with a political commitment in place, we must focus on action to fully protect species and set sustainable fisheries limits to ensure continued migrations of sharks and rays.

The oceanic whitetip shark is proposed for listing on CMS Appendix I at CoP 13 due to severe declines (of over 95 percent) that have left the species Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Three years later, and just over 20 years since the Convention started to list sharks on its appendices, it is clear that these species migrations still place them in grave danger, with a patchwork of limited protections both domestically and in the world’s high seas insufficient to halt continued declines.

A perfect example is presented by the oceanic whitetip shark. Currently unlisted, this species is proposed for listing on CMS Appendix I at CoP 13 due to severe declines (of over 95 percent) that have left the species Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (which was issued last year for this species). Appendix I prohibits all take (removal from the wild) of endangered species.

WCS staff collecting data on shark catches. Photo credit: Luke Warwick/WCS

Previously believed to be one of the most abundant large predators on the planet, the oceanic whitetip now edges toward extinction. Unfortunately, the management efforts put in place — via bans on retaining any caught in tuna fisheries and listing on the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) — seemingly coming too late. Lack of political commitment is sadly a major factor.

There is still hope for the species via the rapid implementation of the aforementioned measures. Perhaps an Appendix I listing on CMS can help secure the strong protections it needs immediately even if any hope of sustainable fisheries and an eventual full recovery remain a distant dream.

While it is encouraging to see the wide range of items on the CMS agenda related to shark conservation — and in particular strong measures like those proposed for the oceanic whitetip — it is also clear that even for the species in need of the strongest conservation action, implementation of CMS listings at a national level is elusive.

While it’s encouraging to see the wide range of items on the CMS agenda related to shark conservation, for species in most in need of conservation action, implementation of CMS listings at a national level is elusive.

A report released last year documents that strict national protections for Appendix I-listed species (particularly sawfishes and mobulid rays) are still lacking in many CMS Party Range countries, with only 28 percent of CMS Parties having met these obligations.

It isn’t all bad news. Since the last CMS CoP, work has proceeded to better manage CMS listed sharks and rays, with the landmark first ever regional catch limit set for the CMS Appendix II listed blue shark. Yet at the same meeting no catch limits were set for the CMS Appendix II listed mako shark.

WCS staff member collecting data that support CMS listings. Photo credit: Luke Warwick/WCS

Also in the last year, CITES listed all mako sharks, wedgefish and giant guitarfish. Many of these are on CMS Appendix II, mandating that any continued trade must be legal and sustainable.

All of this points to progress for CMS-listed sharks, but often it is too little too late, with unsustainable global catch and trade, and insufficient responses to intergovernmental regulations forming a continuing pattern that leads to continued declines. Governments and all of us must not let our sharks and rays reach Critically Endangered status, or even become extinct, before we act.

Through bodies such as CMS and via shark conservation projects around the world, we must partner with Governments to reduce shark mortality to sustainable levels as rapidly as we can.

How do we change this? Through bodies such as CMS and via shark conservation projects around the world, we must partner with Governments to reduce shark mortality to sustainable levels as rapidly as we can. We face severe challenges, with data and resources often lacking. Only by working together can we ensure that we act with the speed required to confront the global crisis facing the world’s sharks and rays.

We welcome the focus CMS brings to the issue and the proposed new protection for species such as the oceanic whitetip that badly need it. However, we call upon all in the CMS family to do more for the world’s endangered sharks. If new steps such as the oceanic whitetip listing are to be effective, we need implementation of these listings to be like the sharks they represent: fast, strong, and well designed. If they fail, we will lose these ancient predators forever.

It is clear that the status quo is deeply insufficient. The CMS Secretariat, working with Governments and NGOs like WCS — and in coordination with the CMS Memorandum of Understanding on Sharks — must now take prompt action. Only full implementation of multilateral international commitments such as CMS listings will result in more live sharks in the world’s oceans.

Luke Warwick is Associate Director for the Sharks and Rays Program at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).

Our Ocean, Our Future

Conserving and managing the marine biodiversity of our oceans is a monumental task that few countries have the capacity to do on their own. WCS is responding by investing in ocean protection, sustainable fisheries, and marine species conservation where the need is greatest

Wildlife Conservation Society

Written by

WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature.

Our Ocean, Our Future

Conserving and managing the marine biodiversity of our oceans is a monumental task that few countries have the capacity to do on their own. WCS is responding by investing in ocean protection, sustainable fisheries, and marine species conservation where the need is greatest

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade