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25 May 2007 - Australia weak over international protection for critically endangered species      

Australia weak over international protection for critically endangered species

Sydney, 25 May 2007                                      
                                                                                                                                    

As 171 Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) prepare to vote on proposals to protect wildlife threatened by international trade, Humane Society International (HSI) is dumbfounded as to why the Australian Government is considering anything but giving its total support for the protection of a critically endangered marine species.

“Less than a week before the meeting is to start, the Australian Government is faltering on whether to support the proposal to give all seven critically endangered species of sawfish the highest level of protection under CITES,” said Michael Kennedy, HSI Director. “Successful adoption of this proposal would be the first time a shark species is given such strict protection by the Convention.”

All seven species of sawfish are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with Australia being a Range State for six of them. Kenya and the USA have jointly submitted a proposal to include all sawfish species in the Pristidae family on Appendix I of the Convention – effectively banning all international trade unless permitted for exceptional circumstances.

In recent months recommendations to adopt the proposal have come from more than 80 conservation organisations including the Species Survival Network (SSN) of which HSI is a member, WWF and TRAFFIC, as well as the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the CITES Secretariat.

“Despite the overwhelming international support for the Sawfish proposal, the Government continues to entertain calls from a small section of the aquarium industry who are seeking a lower level of protection for the species, to allow them to continue capturing and exporting sawfish for the live aquarium trade,” said Mr Kennedy. “This really is an outrageous proposition given the highly threatened status of the species.”

Global populations of all Pristidae species have experienced historic declines greater than 90%, mostly as a result of fishing pressures including direct captures and bycatch which is usually retained for trade. The exploitation of all sawfish species continues to be driven by international markets for the live aquarium trade and for trade in their parts and derivatives including fins, rostral teeth and meat.

“This really should be an open and shut case for a country that usually takes a conservation minded approach to international meetings such as CITES – particularly where marine species are concerned,” said Mr Kennedy. “It is bewildering as to why Australia would even be contemplating not giving their full support to a proposal that would effectively take the financial incentive out of catching and trading in this critically endangered species.”

The 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP14) will meet from the 3rd – 15th June in The Hague, The Netherlands. Details of the proposals are available from www.cites.org





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