Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014, is a momentous day in the history of shark conservation.
For the first time, international trade in five species of shark and two species of manta ray must be proven to be legal and sustainable, if it is to continue.
In March 2013, Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) added porbeagle and oceanic whitetip sharks, three species of hammerhead sharks—scalloped, great, and smooth—as well as all species of manta ray to CITES Appendix II. Appendix II listed species can be traded, but only if the trade is legal and does not cause detriment to the species in the wild. Putting the required regulations in place will change the global shark fin trade forever and provide these threatened species, which are being driven toward extinction because of overfishing, with a chance for survival and recovery.
Putting the required regulations in place will change the global shark fin trade forever and provide these threatened species with a chance for survival and recovery.
Over the past 18 months, countries around the world have been working on an unprecedented scale to help each other meet the new requirements. Costa Rica, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru, Panama, Germany, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, Fiji, Sri Lanka, and Hong Kong have held workshops and meetings focused on implementation of the new listings. Additional workshops and meetings are scheduled through the end of 2014 and into 2015.
These events have given governments the tools they need to enforce the new regulations. The meetings have featured international experts who provide guidance to government officials on how to identify shark products, such as fins, in the form in which they are traded, how to determine if the species were acquired legally, and how to develop the scientific assessments needed to demonstrate that continued trade originating from their country will not be detrimental to the survival of the listed species.
“This is the most comprehensive global effort we’ve seen in the 40-year history of the Convention to prepare for the implementation of a new listing,” said John Scanlon, the CITES secretary-general.
The global effort to enforce the Appendix II listings starts the journey of recovery for the depleted populations of these shark and ray species. The goal is to ensure that they continue to exist in healthy numbers across their range.
“We are witnessing an incredible focus on implementation all over the world,” said Imogen Zethoven, director of global shark conservation for The Pew Charitable Trusts. “It’s thrilling to see the global commitment to shark conservation. We must continue to develop shark protections globally so we can ensure the health of the oceans we all share.”
Demian Chapman, a Pew marine fellow and assistant professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University in New York, was hands-on during many of the global workshops, sharing his expertise in shark fin identification to help participants gain these essential skills.
“Any border control personnel in the world can look at a fin in its normally traded form and be able to tell if it’s from one of the CITES species or not. And they’ll be able to do this quickly,” Chapman said, noting the importance of the training.
In Hong Kong, the center of the global shark fin trade, efforts to implement CITES are well underway, with customs officials attending training sessions to develop the identification skills and protocols needed to check for listed species. With 50 percent of the global trade in fins passing through Hong Kong each year, the checks the government there will carry out will be fundamental to the listings’ success.
“CITES implementation is doable, and it’s doable in such an important place,” said Stan Shea of BLOOM Hong Kong, a marine conservation organization.
CITES was established in 1975 through an international treaty for the sole purpose of protecting wild animals and plants from overexploitation in international trade. Once a government becomes a CITES party, it is bound to implement the Convention. CITES currently has 180 parties.
“Regulating international trade in these sharks is critical to their survival,” said Scanlon. “Implementation will involve some challenges to ensure that the trade is legal, sustainable, and traceable. And it will involve practical challenges, such as how do you identify the shark fin or the shark meat that is in trade? But by working together, we can do it and we will do it.”