Enforcement Efforts Continue in Hong Kong to Help Protect Vulnerable Sharks

Governments are working to ensure that CITES-listed species found in trade are legal

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Enforcement Efforts Continue in Hong Kong to Help Protect Vulnerable Sharks
Scalloped hammerhead sharks were one of the three hammerhead species in need of trade regulations in 2013.
Michele Westmoreland/Getty Images

With 20 commonly traded shark and ray species subject to trade measures under CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, it is the responsibility of governments globally to ensure that these species are managed properly to help depleted shark populations recover. The species are listed on Appendix II of CITES, which requires that international trade be sustainable and legal, and not detrimental to populations in the wild.

Officials in Hong Kong, which is at the hub of the international shark fin trade, have shown they are taking these listings seriously and are leading the way for other countries. Since 2014, the government of Hong Kong has hosted nine workshops to train its customs and enforcement officials on visually identifying fins of the CITES-listed species. Partly as a result of the skills they gained in those sessions, Hong Kong customs personnel seized more than 5 metric tons of shark fins from 2014 through July 2018.

Implementation workshop
Attendees at a workshop last year in Hong Kong learn how to identify fins of shark species listed on CITES Appendix II.
Kathleen Ho

While Hong Kong and other governments have demonstrated their commitment to implement the shark listings, research from Stony Brook University, recently published in the journal Conservation Letters, shows that full compliance takes time.

Seeking to determine if shark species listed by CITES in 2013 were still being traded and, if so, whether the trade was accompanied by proper documentation, the researchers ran DNA tests on fin trimmings they had collected from February 2014 to December 2016. The team then compared those findings to the trade records and found that even though scalloped and smooth hammerhead sharks were two of the five species most commonly imported during that time and had been listed on Appendix II in 2013, the records showed that these species were only a minor portion of what was reported in trade.

The study also offered recommendations for improving enforcement, including employing additional inspectors, centralizing ports of entry for fins, conducting real-time DNA testing in the field, and undertaking risk assessments on shipments based on information from the source country. With the growing momentum for shark conservation, additional capacity building and the development of new tools can lead to more effective implementation of the CITES listings.

Previous research on CITES-listed species such as seahorses, tigers, rhinoceroses, and turtles, has shown low compliance during the initial phase of implementation. So the shark study results are not too surprising, especially because the 2013 CITES listings didn’t go into force until September 2014.

Implementation efforts for listed sharks and rays have been increasing globally, particularly since the 2013 CITES listings, which suggests that many governments want to comply with the CITES listings.

Shark fins
Stan Shea

Study co-author Stan Shea of Bloom Hong Kong said of the research: “The Hong Kong government has made substantial progress in their efforts to properly implement the CITES shark listings, and with this new information and additional tools, Hong Kong can do even better. As this is an assessment of the shark species found in the fin trade since the first commercially valuable shark listings went into effect, it provides a baseline for future comparison here in a global shark fin trade hub and is key to successfully managing these vulnerable species.”

Shark fins
Shark fins dry in the sun in Hong Kong. The government there seized more than 5 metric tons of shark fins from 2014 through July 2018 but could take additional actions to further curb illegal trade.
Shawn Heinrichs

Funding for the study was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Roe Foundation.

Jen Sawada directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ global shark conservation program.

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