CITES and sharks

On March 14, 2013, the International meeting on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) agreed to list scalloped hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini, S. zygaena, and S. mokarran), porbeagle sharks (Lamna nasus), oceanic whitetip sharks (Carcharhinus longimanus), and Manta Rays (genus Manta) on Appendix II for protection. This agreement is an important step towards better management of these threatened species, which are harvested for shark fins and manta ray gill rakers.

The Oceanic Whitetip and Porbeagle Sharks and Manta Rays are currently listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) and the Scalloped Hammerhead is listed as Endangered. Sharks are typically slow to mature and give birth to few “shark pups,” making populations especially vulnerable to overfishing, bycatch, and other human drivers. Even vulnerable species could become endangered if exploitation continues unregulated and unabated.

The smooth harmmerhead and great hammerhead sharks were listed alongside the scalloped hammerhead as “look-alike” species to assist shark fin identification. If shark fins could not be easily distinguishable by species, it would be nearly impossible to enforce the CITES rulings.

All import, export, re-export and introduction of specimens of species covered by the CITES has to be authorized through a licensing system. Different levels of regulations are applied, depending on the Appendices the species is listed at. Each member country must have at least one Management Authority in charge of administering that licensing system and one Scientific Authority to advise the Management authority on the effects of trade on the conservation status of the species. It is also important to check national laws which can be stricter than the CITES rules.

A specimen of a CITES-listed species may be imported into, exported, or re-exported from a State party to the Convention only if the appropriate permit or certificate has been obtained.

For species listed in any of the three appendices, an export permit or re-export certificate issued by the Management Authority of the State of export or re-export is required. For species listed appendices I and II, such as the newly listed sharks and manta rays, a permit may be issued only if the specimen was legally obtained and the trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species; only the first condition is applied for Appendice III listed species. Import permits are required only for species listed at the

Appendix I of the Convention. As the trade of these species is prohibited by the Convention, the import permit can be obtained only if the specimen is not to be used for commercial purposes and if the import will be for purposes that are not detrimental to the survival of the species.

While trade bans have been successful to stabilize population of certain species, poaching and black-market, left without competition, seem to still have a strong impacts on some species like elephants and rhinos. During the last meeting of the member countries in Bangkok in March 2013, trying to fight these trends, the parties also considered how the CITES could further enhance efforts to combat the illegal trade, especially elephant ivory and rhino horn as well as how the CITES could assist countries implement their obligations at the national level.

Now that a total of eight species of sharks and manta rays are protected under CITES, it is up to the member states to implement and enforce import permits and other trade regulations. Other steps can also be taken to protect these species, such as the establishment of shark sanctuaries. Sharks and rays are popular targets for ecotourism, especially snorkeling and diving. By designating marine protected areas, communities can continue to grow and develop without relying solely on fishing these species.

The Appendix II CITES listing of scalloped hammerhead, porbeagle and oceanic white tip sharks and of manta rays is a crucial step forward in recovering populations of this important top predators and pelagic species. On March 14, the international community strongly voiced its support for more research and protection before we allow these species to become overharvested and, possibly, extinct. It is now the responsibility of governments, non-governmental organizations, and local communities worldwide to unite to ensure the implementation of these CITES rules.

Written by Stephanie Stefanski, U.S. Coordinator for Cousteau Divers and
Noémie Stroh, Project manager for Science and Communication - The Cousteau Society

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