Qatar — Whether to protect eight shark species – spiny dogfish, porbeagle, oceanic whitetip, scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead, smooth hammerhead, dusky and sandbar sharks – that are vulnerable to international trade will be a question debated at the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
The Shark Alliance is calling on delegates from the 175 governments that will attend the meeting to list these threatened shark species under CITES Appendix II. Such action would require export permits for all international trade and a determination that trade is legal and not detrimental to the species’ survival.
Most sharks are exceptionally susceptible to overfishing because they grow slowly, mature late, and produce few young. For example, spiny dogfish are pregnant for nearly two years, and porbeagles only give birth to about four young per brood.
"Sharks are exceptionally vulnerable animals and the species proposed for CITES listing have been hit especially hard by international trade," said Heike Zidowitz, chair of Germany's shark science society, who will head the Shark Alliance delegation to the CITES meeting. "It's high time to view sharks not just as commodities, but as wildlife, and to use this wildlife treaty to control the lucrative shark trade.”
Spearheaded by Germany, proposals to list porbeagle and spiny dogfish have been formally introduced by Sweden, supported by the other Member States of the European Community, and co-sponsored by the Pacific island nation of Palau.
Porbeagle and spiny dogfish, classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Endangered in the Northwest Atlantic and globally as Vulnerable, are at risk primarily due to demand for their meat, which drives international trade. In Europe, porbeagle meat is among the most valuable shark meat, particularly in France; spiny dogfish meat is more widely popular, found regularly in UK fish and chip shops.
The United States and Palau are proposing CITES listing for the oceanic whitetip shark, categorized by IUCN as globally Vulnerable and the scalloped hammerhead, listed as globally Endangered. The great hammerhead, smooth hammerhead, sandbar and dusky shark have been added to the latter proposal because the fins of these species closely resemble those of scalloped hammerheads.
Hammerhead shark fins are highly sought for use in the traditional, Asian delicacy “shark fin soup.” Because their meat is generally considered unpalatable, hammerhead sharks too often fall victim to “finning” (slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea). Strong demand for fins is also a driving force behind the depletion of oceanic whitetip sharks.
"We congratulate Palau, the United States and Sweden for championing strong proposals to list commercially valuable sharks under CITES Appendix II," said Matt Rand, coordinator of the Shark Alliance and director of Global Shark Conservation for the Pew Environment Group, "We call on all other CITES parties to support the proposed Appendix II listings for these 8 shark species before it's too late."
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