Record Number of Countries Sign On to Protect Sharks and Rays

67 co-sponsors support trade restrictions for species under CITES

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Record Number of Countries Sign On to Protect Sharks and Rays

Editor's Note: This article was updated Aug. 7, 2019, to correct the CoP18 meeting dates and location.

Momentum for international protections for sharks and rays continues to grow, with a record 67 governments co-sponsoring one or more listing proposals in the lead-up to this year’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Conference of the Parties (CoP18). Delegates will consider listing shortfin and longfin mako sharks, 10 species of white-spotted wedgefish, and 6 species of giant guitarfish under CITES Appendix II at CoP18 Geneva, Switzerland, from 17 to 28 August. Species listed under Appendix II can be traded internationally but only if the trade does not cause detriment to them in the wild.

In recent decades, mako shark, white-spotted wedgefish, and giant guitarfish populations have suffered significant declines throughout their ranges, including likely extirpation (local extinction) of giant guitarfish in the Mediterranean. These declines, largely driven by the international demand for fins, qualify each species for a listing on CITES Appendix II.

24 December 2018 was the deadline for co-sponsorship of the Appendix II proposals, which would require all continuing trade of these species to be sustainable. The co-sponsors span the globe and include Sri Lanka, western and northern African governments, Dominican Republic, Palau—the first country to declare all of its national waters a shark sanctuary—and the 28 member states of the European Union. 

By adopting listings to cap international trade of threatened species to sustainable levels and encouraging countries to pass legislation to manage these species, CITES has become a driving force in global shark conservation and management.

Six species of giant guitarfish could be protected by trade restrictions at the CITES Conference of the Parties in Sri Lanka in May.
Danny Copeland

Prior to the CITES meeting in 2013, the international trade of sharks and shark products was essentially unregulated. That meeting produced landmark Appendix II listings for five species of sharks and all manta rays, meaning that for the first time, countries had to prove that any catch of these species was sustainable before engaging in trade. At the last CoP in 2016, all thresher shark species, silky sharks, and nine species of mobula rays were added to Appendix II.

Implementation of the 2013 and 2016 listings have been widely hailed as a success. Dozens of governments all over the world have put domestic measures in place, and more than 70 countries have hosted or attended training workshops for fisheries, customs, and environment officials on how best to create full protections or sustainable export limits, as well as the customs checks needed to prevent illegal trade. However, it is estimated that less than 20 percent of the global fin trade is regulated by CITES.

Mako shark
Mako sharks are highly valued for their meat and fins and could disappear without the protections a CITES Appendix II listing can provide.

 “We are encouraged by the record-breaking show of global support for our proposal to protect giant guitarfish, and the additional shark and ray species that have been proposed for CITES listings,” said Mamadou Diallo, a Senegalese marine conservation and fisheries biologist. “Senegal is committed to ensuring all of the 18 species for consideration for Appendix II inclusion will be successfully listed in May.”

This is the second consecutive CoP cycle where countries have shown unprecedented support for the Appendix II proposals and it is a clear sign that CITES is a critical component to protecting the world’s sharks and rays.

Countries cosponsoring one or more proposals are: Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Benin, Bhutan, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chad, Cote D’Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Fiji, Gabon, Gambia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Latvia, Lebanon, Liberia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Monaco, Nepal, Netherlands, Niger, Nigeria, Palau, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Sweden, Syria, the Philippines, Togo, the United Kingdom, Ukraine.

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