Numerous species of sharks and rays stand to gain protections at the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP18) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES); the meeting, originally scheduled for May, was postponed and the new date and location have not been set. Three proposals that together would list shortfin and longfin mako sharks, 10 species of wedgefish, and six species of giant guitarfish on Appendix II of CITES have drawn a record-breaking number of co-sponsors. If successful, the listings will help ensure that international trade in the species is legal and sustainable.
To help boost the chances of the listings, representatives from 39 governments attended regional workshops in Male, Maldives (10 governments, March 17-18); Apia, Samoa (10 countries, March 25-27); and Dakar, Senegal (19 nations, April 16-17). Many of the represented governments co-sponsored one or more of the proposals.
In recent decades, populations of mako sharks, wedgefish, and giant guitarfish have experienced significant declines throughout their ranges, with some even driven to local extinction. These declines, largely fueled by the international demand for fins, qualify each species for a listing on CITES Appendix II. The Shark Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently reclassified shortfin and longfin mako sharks from Vulnerable to Endangered on the IUCN Red List, signaling that additional management measures are urgently needed.
By adopting listings to cap international trade of threatened species at sustainable levels and encouraging countries to pass regulations to manage these species, CITES has become a driving force in global shark conservation and management.
Each workshop brought together CITES government representatives of the region to consult with experts, identify priorities and potential challenges, and consider the proposed listings. Experts led sessions on the role of governments in regulating international trade; new research on mako sharks, wedgefish, and giant guitarfish; preparations for CITES CoP18; and effective implementation, including fin identification.
“Senegal and Parties of the Western African region played an essential role in the listing of shark and ray species on the CITES Appendices at CoP16 in 2013 and CoP17 in 2016 and will continue doing so at CoP18 this year,” said Col. Abba Sonko, head of CITES management authority in Senegal. “Our region has also been a leader in the implementation of these shark and ray listings. Since 2013, Senegal has conducted and hosted multiple domestic and regional workshops to assist enforcement services in identifying CITES-listed species and has raised awareness on the conservation status of these endangered marine animals. This important work must continue to ensure the fishing of sharks and rays is sustainable and doesn't lead to the extinction of species.”
In 2013, the first commercially important sharks were listed on Appendix II. Since then, CITES Parties have been working to implement measures for the 20 shark and ray species listed in 2013 and 2016. Dozens of countries have enacted domestic measures to protect sharks and rays, and more than 70 governments have hosted or attended workshops for fisheries, customs, and environment officials on how to sustainably manage their fisheries or create full protections, and how to perform the customs checks needed to prevent illegal trade.
“At the last CITES Conference of the Parties, the successful listings of four threatened shark species and nine mobula ray species on Appendix II were championed by Pacific countries,” said Ulu Bismarck Crawley, chief executive officer of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in Samoa. “To implement those listings and recognizing the important role sharks play to our marine ecosystem, Samoa chose to join Palau and others to become a shark sanctuary, prohibiting the commercial fishing of all sharks throughout our entire exclusive economic zone.”
Shark and ray experts have created tools, such as fin identification guides, for the species proposed for protection. Rima Jabado, Ph.D., founder and lead scientist of the Gulf Elasmo Project, showed workshop participants how to identify shark fins to help ensure effective implementation of any of the proposed shark and ray listings that result from the CITES meeting.
These workshops show that governments in South Asia, Oceania, and West Africa are committed to effective implementation of existing CITES shark and ray listings, support new listings, and want to continue the momentum toward sustainable management of these imperiled species worldwide. This was especially evident in a declaration by the West African countries that committed to fully supporting the adoption of all three proposals at CoP18.
The West Africa and South Asia workshops were funded by the Shark Conservation Fund.
Jen Sawada directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ global shark conservation program.