The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, commonly known as CITES, is recognized globally as one of the most effective and best-enforced international conservation agreements. It provides protections to more than 30,000 species and has been instrumental in preventing the extinction of many animals and plants.
CITES protects 12 species of sharks, all manta and mobula rays, and all species of sawfish. That’s a small fraction of the more than 1,000 shark and ray species found globally, approximately 31 percent of which are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
At the 18th meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP18), which starts Aug. 17 in Geneva, members will vote on proposals to list 18 species of sharks and rays on CITES Appendix II, which means that international trade must be legal and sustainable. These species—shortfin and longfin mako sharks, 10 species of wedgefish, and six species of giant guitarfish—have experienced population declines of greater than 70 percent. In some areas, species have been driven to localized extinction as a result of inadequate management, lack of international trade controls, and poor enforcement of existing measures.
Momentum for international trade protections for sharks continues to grow, with a record-breaking 67 countries co-sponsoring one or more of this year’s shark and ray proposals. Co-sponsors include the European Union and its 28 member states and governments in Africa, the Pacific, Southern Asia, and other regions.
An Appendix II listing for these species would ensure that fins and meat that are traded internationally come from sustainably managed fisheries that do not harm the status of these wild populations. Trade controls under CITES would complement and reinforce fisheries management or other conservation measures adopted for these species and help preserve their populations for generations to come.