The 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) concluded without providing any trade protections whatsoever for severely depleted Atlantic bluefin tuna and four vulnerable species of sharks – scalloped hammerhead, oceanic white tip, porbeagle and spiny dogfish.
“We cannot continue to empty our oceans without consequence,” said Susan Lieberman, director of international policy for the Pew Environment Group. “The CITES treaty has historically protected species. At this meeting, governments abandoned conservation and chose to protect trade instead. The imperative to safeguard the larger iconic species increases with every catch.”
CITES has listed marine species previously - including seahorses, queen conch, sturgeon and humphead wrasse - although it has traditionally focused more on land-based species including elephants and tigers. This year, however, there were more commercial marine species proposed for protection than at any meeting in the Convention's 35 years.
The shark fin trade - responsible for the killing up to 73 million sharks annually - and global demand for shark meat continue to threaten scalloped hammerhead, oceanic white tip, porbeagle and spiny dogfish sharks. A CITES Appendix II listing would have required countries exporting shark products to ensure that international trade is legal and would not threaten the survival of those species. While the porbeagle proposal was approved in committee by a single-vote margin, CITES delegates rejected all four proposals by the end of the final plenary session.
“Despite fast declining populations of the ocean's apex predators, CITES government delegates turned a blind eye to science,” said Matt Rand, director of global shark conservation for the Pew Environment Group. “Four threatened species of sharks were refused protections even though the evidence of international trade's harmful effects was plentiful. Inaction can and will set these sharks on a course toward total population collapse.”
CITES delegates had the opportunity to prohibit all international trade in bluefin tuna, but they rejected the Appendix I proposal. Overfishing, illegal fishing and the growing demand for high-end raw bluefin as sushi and sashimi has fueled increased catches, further depleting this shrinking population. CITES received reports that the science is undeniable that the Atlantic bluefin tuna qualifies for the highest level of protection, but the governments voted against the bluefin proposal.
In the wake of last week's failed attempt at CITES to prohibit international trade in bluefin tuna, the Pew Environment Group today will launch a new campaign to protect breeding populations of bluefin in the Gulf of Mexico - the fish's only known spawning ground in the western Atlantic Ocean.