International Community Stands Behind Votes to Protect Sharks and Manta Rays

Most governments to implement new listings adopted in Bangkok, though 5 enter reservations to shark and ray listings

A critical deadline has passed for countries to exempt themselves from new international trade regulations adopted this year to protect five species of sharks and two of manta rays.

While we're disappointed in the actions of Iceland, Greenland, Guyana, Japan, and Yemen, the overwhelming majority of the 178 CITES Member countries have stood strongly behind the commitments made in March.Elizabeth Wilson

The new restrictions were adopted in March in Bangkok under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, an international wildlife conservation treaty that regulates trade across borders.

Since that time, five countries have filed specific "reservations," or exceptions, meaning they exempt themselves from provisions of the treaty for specific species. This is legal if done within 90 days of the close of the meeting at which the amendments to the convention's appendices were adopted. Those governments are effectively exempting themselves from requirements intended to ensure that international trade in those species is legal and sustainable.

At the March meeting, the required two-thirds of CITES Member governments voted to protect the oceanic whitetip and porbeagle sharks, three species of hammerhead sharks, and two species of manta rays.

Japan has filed reservations dealing with the regulations on all five shark species. Guyana objected to the provisions for the shark species and the manta rays. Denmark filed a reservation on behalf of Greenland for the porbeagle. Iceland also filed a reservation concerning the porbeagle. And Yemen moved to exempt itself from the provisions on hammerhead sharks.

"While we're disappointed in the actions of Iceland, Greenland, Guyana, Japan, and Yemen, the overwhelming majority of the 178 CITES Member countries have stood strongly behind the commitments made in March," said Elizabeth Wilson of The Pew Charitable Trust's global shark conservation initiative.

List of Reservations

  • Porbeagle Shark (Lamna nasus) - Denmark, on behalf of Greenland, Guyana, Iceland and Japan
  • Hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini, S. mokarran, S. zygaena)  - Guyana, Japan, and Yemen
  • Oceanic whitetip (Carcharinus longimanus) - Guyana, Japan
  • Manta rays (Manta spp) - Guyana

According to data reported to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, Japan ranked 18th among nations catching sharks in 2011, with landings of 10,238 tons. Yemen ranked 19th, with landings of 9,548 tons that year. The other countries taking reservations have not had significant shark catches.

Wilson pointed out that the major shark fin market and trading countries had not taken reservations to the CITES listings. She said it is particularly significant and laudable that China, the world's largest importer of shark fins, did not enter a reservation.

With the March votes by CITES members, the shark and ray species are now listed on the CITES Convention's Appendix II, which requires that their international trade be legal and sustainable. The new regulations will change the global shark fin trade significantly and provide these threatened species with a chance for survival and recovery.

Recognizing that implementation of the new listings will require preparation, the Parties decided to delay the effective date of the new provisions by 18 months. They are set to take effect Sept. 14, 2014.

From that time, international trade in these species will need to be accompanied by CITES permits confirming that the animals have been fished sustainably and legally. The trade also will need to be reported to the CITES Secretariat.

Editors Notes:

  • 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 international trade of wild animals and plants, including fish and other marine life, is a multibillion-dollar business.
  • Overexploitation for international trade, in combination with habitat loss and degradation, climate change, and other pressures, can threaten populations with significant depletion or even extinction.