Australia jeopardises global shark conservation in political deal
An amendment by Australia at the 14th Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), currently underway in The Netherlands, has seen the protection of a critically endangered Australian species of sawfish downgraded. This has been done in the private interests of one sole commercial trader in Queensland, the Cairns Marine Aquarium Fish, the only company currently exporting sawfish for the aquarium trade, and whose director was permitted on the Australian Government Delegation.
Kenya and the USA submitted a joint proposal to include all sawfish species on Appendix I of the Convention, a listing that would effectively ban all international trade in live animals, their parts and products, except in exceptional circumstances. Despite overwhelming evidence of global population declines in all sawfish species that has led to their classification as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Australia submitted an annotation to the proposal that would list one of these species, Pristis microdon, in Appendix II. This loophole allows for live trade in the species to continue from Australia, feeding an unsustainable demand for display in public aquaria worldwide.
“While the successful listing of six species of sawfish in Appendix I represents the first ever listing of any shark species afforded the highest level of protection under CITES,” said Michael Kennedy, HSI Director, “we are very angry that this freshwater sawfish, a species that is no less critically endangered, was omitted for the sake of a small export industry trading live specimens for primarily commercial reasons.
“We are also very disturbed that, as the nation that had been leading global shark conservation efforts, we have now shattered our reputation, when for the very first time, we are faced with a proposal that affected commercial interest in Australia. We have shot ourselves in the foot – and embarrassed ourselves internationally – all to protect an export industry worth less that $100,000.”
Under the Australian annotation, live trade in freshwater sawfish, Pristis microdon, will be permitted for “primarily conservation purposes” – a quaint new term developed for this commercial deal.
“The onus is now on Australia to prove their claim to the 171 Parties to the Convention that trade in this sawfish will not have a detrimental effect on the species,” said Mr Kennedy. “HSI will be looking very closely at the actions of both the Commonwealth Government and the Cairns company in the coming months. We will not be letting this matter rest”.