Analysis

Japan Bows Out of International Trade Agreement to Protect Threatened Sharks

The Japanese government has declared its intent to exempt itself from new international regulations to restrict cross-border trade in oceanic whitetip, porbeagle, and three types of hammerhead sharks.

These protections were adopted by governments at the March meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, in Bangkok and were supported by a two-thirds majority vote. The agreement to protect these sharks was a monumental step forward for the conservation and sustainable use of commercially exploited marine fish species.

 

Reacting to the news, Elizabeth Wilson of Pew's global shark conservation initiative, says:

Japan is the only country that has indicated its intent to not implement these new measures for sharks. These protections were agreed to by the international community by a two-thirds majority vote following consideration of their scientific and technical merit.

We hope Japan reconsiders its position. We strongly encourage other countries to uphold and enforce these important protection measures.Manager, Elizabeth Wilson, global shark conservation

In the rare instance that a country exempts itself through a “reservation,” as it is called, it no longer is required to issue the permits for international trade of the species of concern or to comply with CITES requirements for that species. Wilson says the consequences are troubling:

Taking a reservation” undermines the effectiveness of the convention and the will of the majority of governments. At a recent regional fisheries management meeting in Mauritius, Japanese representatives refused to agree to additional protections for hammerhead sharks at the regional level, citing shark measures already approved at CITES. This reservation undermines those very agreements. Furthermore, the regulation of both fishing and trade are needed to ensure healthy populations of these sharks in the future.

Despite this action by Japan, the majority of countries still stand behind the CITES requirements agreed to in March and will still be required to issue the necessary permits to ensure that trade across international borders of the sharks listed is both legal and sustainable.

CITES is widely recognized as one of the most-effective and best-enforced international conservation agreements. It offers protection to more than 30,000 species around the globe and has been instrumental in preventing the extinction of numerous plants and animals.

The five species brought under the protection of the convention in March join whale sharks, basking sharks, and great white sharks already protected under CITES.