Sharks, Manta rays receive “protections” under treaty – for now

Oceanic Whitetip Shark, Credit: Michael Aston
Oceanic Whitetip Shark, Credit: Michael Aston

Until March 14, members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna or Flora (CITES) — an international treaty that regulates international trade of animal and plant species to prevent endangerment — will meet in Bangkok, Thailand. The international cohort will consider 67 proposals to adjust the rules governing international trade in wildlife species. Topping the agenda — aquatic species like sharks and rays, timber species, elephants, rhinos, polar bears, freshwater turtles and more.

Notable highlights so far: A proposal submitted by Colombia and co-sponsored by the U.S. and Brazil to protect oceanic whitetip sharks — overexploited due to the international fin trade —  was adopted.  Protections were also increased for three species of hammerhead sharks, porbeagle sharks and manta rays.

An important note — this doesn’t take trading them off the table completely. Under the specific appendix they are now classified under — Appendix II — which allows for “legal and sustainable trade.” And while U.S. officials praised the measures’ adoption, they noted it could be reconsidered later this week when the treaty members hold another session to finalize recommendations.

From The Nation:

“However, this victory could be short won, as environmentalist and delegates have learned that leading economic powers like Japan are lobbying several countries, developing countries among them, to reopen the vote on the five shark species and manta ray proposals.

Under the CITES regulations, Japan can reopen the vote for these proposals if it can get one third majority from member countries attending the meeting.


Environmentalists are afraid that the proposals to list five shark species and manta ray will be rejected by the plenary session, pointing out that at the 2010 CITES meeting in Qatar, the porbeagle shark was adopted in the committee meeting but the proposal was later rejected by the plenary meeting.”

So why, overall, are these protections important? For one thing,  shark populations overall are in decline. And sharks are being killed for their fins for soup.  A snippet from the USFW:

Sharks are over-harvested in many parts of the world, primarily for their fins. Most shark fins are exported to Asia, where they are a main ingredient in shark fin soup, which is considered a delicacy in many Asian countries. Due to their low productivity and high economic value, populations of these shark species have suffered severe declines. Porbeagle sharks also face pressures due to demand for their meat, while manta rays are over-harvested for their gill plates.

But the battle isn’t over yet. As The Nation notes above, Japanese authorities are applying political pressure and economical pressures on other foreign delegates to reopen and subsequently change their votes. Stay tuned.

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