Sharks take over at CITES
Today was an important day at CITES. Today really was the day of the shark. After many years in the making, history was made in Committee One of CITES with a full day of shark proposals considered by CITES parties. For those of us, HSI included, who have been working on these issues for many years it was an historic day. Five proposals were considered for the oceanic whitetip shark, the scalloped hammerhead (and great and smooth hammerhead) sharks, the porbeagle shark, the freshwater sawfish, and the two species of manta rays. Every single one of these proposals was adopted by the CITES parties by the required two-thirds majority. Whilst we were extremely hopeful of this outcome, where commercial marine species are concerned the outcomes at CITES can never be guaranteed. Each of these proposals, with the exception of the freshwater sawfish, was adopted after a vote by secret ballot.
The freshwater sawfish was accepted for listing under Appendix I of CITES, which bans international trade, six years after Australia sought to allow the export of the species to aquaria for conservation purposes. This correction of what we consider to be a terrible outcome for a species in 2007 was strongly supported by HSI Australia, following six years of work to gain better protection for the highly fragmented populations of the freshwater sawfish, and we spoke out in the plenary meeting to support this important move by Australia. We were therefore delighted when the freshwater sawfish proposal was adopted by consensus, banning international trade. A fantastic outcome for this critically endangered species.
For the remainder of the species, debate was long and tough with discussion for each proposal taking between one and two hours. For each species, opinions between countries were divided with no consensus to be found. Many Latin American countries spoke strongly in favour of putting in place a CITES regime for the sharks, strongly supported by the EU, West African countries, New Zealand and Australia amongst many others. In contrast many of the East and Southern African and Caribbean countries, Japan and China spoke strongly against the proposals, amongst others.
Arguments against the proposals focused on identification and implementation concerns and stated that Regional Fishery Management Organisations (RFMOs) were the bodies that should be putting in place conservation and management measures, not CITES.
HSI and our conservation partners do not disagree with this approach. The implementation of conservation and management measures in RFMOs are vital, however we believe that CITES also has an important role to play as this can work at a global level, and will help to increase the data on trade in these shark species. In fact the work of both RFMOs and CITES is vital so that we are deploying every tool in our tool box to protect our sharks.
Despite all these arguments, the clear winners today are the shark species concerned. However, there is still every chance that the decisions made in Committee One today will be reopened and overturned in Plenary due to be held later this week. HSI is continuing to work hard to give the sharks the best chance for protection under the CITES regime, and make sure these decisions will be upheld. But for now we will celebrate this small but important victory, knowing that the work of HSI and our partners has been vital in getting us this far.