Although governments are working around the world to implement rules intended to regulate the trade of some shark and ray species, international commerce is still a major factor in the decline of other threatened species found in the fin trade.
Fortunately, the global community appears poised to act, as demonstrated during the 70th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Standing Committee from Oct. 1-5 in Sochi, Russia.
Twenty commonly traded shark and ray species are listed on CITES Appendix II, which requires that international trade be sustainable and legal. Countries continue to make laudable progress on implementing those listings—due in part to regional workshops and the availability of such tools as shark fin identification guides and a manual showcasing genetic approaches to identifying products in trade.
Although the implementation efforts are helping to rebuild populations of the listed animals, approximately a third of shark species found in the fin trade are threatened with extinction. And international trade is still leading to the decline of other threatened species that would benefit from a CITES listing.
New research conducted by the ocean conservation nonprofit Bloom Hong Kong found evidence that fins from giant guitarfish and wedgefish—sharklike rays—are found within the trade hubs of Hong Kong and Guangzhou, China. Both the giant guitarfish and wedgefish families are found in coastal waters, and populations of both have declined by up to 80 percent over the past 40 years. Because their fins are highly valuable in trade, giant guitarfish and wedgefish would benefit from a CITES Appendix II listing, which means a species can be traded internationally but only if the trade does not cause detriment to the species in the wild.
The study’s findings reinforce the need to regulate trade of these species, and CITES member governments are stepping in to act. Senegal has put forward a proposal to list the blackchin guitarfish (Glaucostegus cemiculus) and sharpnose guitarfish (Glaucostegus granulatus) on CITES Appendix II with the rest of the family, Glaugostegidae, included in the proposal as look-alike species.
“Sawfish are culturally important in Senegal and are even printed on our currency, but we have watched them go nearly extinct,” said Commandant Abba Sonko, head of Senegal’s Wildlife Management Division and the CITES focal point in the country. “As a result, we want to take action to protect the giant guitarfish and allow their populations to recover before it is too late. This is why Senegal is putting forward this proposal” for the 18th meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties (COP18) next May in Sri Lanka.
Senegal announced that proposal during a reception it co-hosted with the government of Sri Lanka, which said it is proposing to list two species commonly known as white-spotted wedgefish (Rhynchobatus australiae and Rhynchobatus djiddensis) and the rest of the family, Rhinidae, as look-alikes on Appendix II.
Mexico said it would add its own Appendix II proposal—for the shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus), with the longfin mako (Isurus paucus) as a look-alike. Those proposals are based on population declines due in part to the high value of the species’ fins and meat in international trade.
The three governments asked CITES parties to join them in supporting these proposals. CITES Appendix II listings would help ensure that continued trade in these species would be sustainable and would help governments better understand the impact that trade has on these populations. By sponsoring proposals for giant guitarfish, wedgefish, and shortfin mako, Senegal, Sri Lanka, and Mexico have taken a critical first step toward safeguarding these species for future generations.
Sevvandi Jayakody, Ph.D., coordinator of CITES for the Government of Sri Lanka and host-country secretariat for the next Conference of the Parties, said: “As the host of the CITES CoP18, we recognize the importance of effective implementation of listed species. … We have hosted both regional and national workshops for shark and ray implementation, which have demonstrated the progress we have made, as well as the need for more action in protecting [those species]. We strongly encourage the world to think beyond the terrestrial habitats and understand the importance of marine realms and services [they] provide, and our responsibility to conserve and ensure sustainable harvest of marine species.”
Jen Sawada directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ global shark conservation program.