shark grey reef in bluee

CITES Turns the Tide for Shark Conservation: Breakthrough at CoP19

On the 4th day of the first week of the World Wildlife Conference in Panama, countries have voted to protect nearly 100 shark and ray species. The increased protections mean the shark fin trade – an industry responsible for the killing of millions of sharks every year – will finally be regulated and limited.

At the 19th Conference of the Parties (CoP19) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), global leaders agreed upon three proposals that limit and regulate the commercial trade of 54 shark species of the requiem family (Carcharhinidae), six small hammerhead shark species (Sphyrnidae) and 37 types of guitarfish (Rhinobatidae). By adding the six species of hammerhead sharks to the three hammerheads already in Appendix II, all hammerhead species are now protected under CITES, as well as all requiem sharks and guitarfish.

The two shark families make up for over half of the shark fins traded yearly. According to the IUCN Red List, most requiem sharks are threatened with extinction and global numbers are declining, mostly because of the relentless shark fin trade. On the 19th of November, finally a change of course has been achieved for the future of sharks.

”Sharks have pivotal functions in marine ecosystems, exerting top-down control in food webs. Large numbers of sharks in any given marine habitat means it has good health. It is really good news to have added protection to new shark species, which must translate into action and real protection in the ocean. To this end, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are a good conservation management tool, which need solid data, and BCSS is on top of that in Mozambique.” – Dr. Mario Lebrato, Chief Scientist at BCSS

Panama led the proposal to list solely 19 requiem sharks on Appendix II, but at the conference it was decided to list the entire family of requiem sharks. “Due to similarities in appearances in fins and meat, all other members of the Family Carcharhinidae are proposed as lookalike species to allow for effective enforcement of this listing at the point of trade” CITES states on their website. The country was backed by more than 40 CITES party governments to push the proposal. Once in discussion, the proposal to expand regulations saw 88 countries voting in favour. 29 countries, which included Indonesia, China and Japan, voted against and 17 abstained, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society. The passing of these three proposals means that 90-95% of all shark species that are frequently fished for their fins will now be under CITES protection. Before the CITES CoP19, only 20-25% of these sharks were protected via CITES. The conference addresses 52 species proposals in total.

What is shark finning?
One of the greatest threats to sharks is the global fin trade. Once caught, a shark’s fin will be sliced off and the shark’s body will be disposed of back into the sea. Mainly being used for shark fin soup, a status dish in some Asian countries, shark finning is a wasteful, destructive practice, harming the ocean’s health. The enormous quantities of sharks harvested deplete shark populations faster than sharks can reproduce, threatening the stability of marine ecosystems. The large, foreign fishing vessels also block small, traditional fisheries from their own local waters, limiting their access to sustainably caught fish (their protein staple) and recreational fisheries, which are of high socio-economic value.

European countries are responsible for nearly half of the shark fin trade, with Spain being the top source of imports to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, supplying 51,000 tonnes of shark fins in the period from 2003 until 2020. The main market is dominated by Asian countries, but other large suppliers include France, Portugal, The Netherlands and Italy. Source: The Guardian

The need for data, research and cooperation remains

The CITES Appendix II means that shark species with healthy populations may still be traded at sustainable levels. The listing of requiem sharks will ensure populations will stay as they are, however, if the populations drop too low, trade may need to be banned in the future.

According to the IUCN Red List, seven of eight hammerhead shark species are endangered, of which five critically endangered. Studies show overfishing drives 37% of elasmobranchs (shark and ray species) toward a global extinction crisis. As global populations are in decline, the need for data and information to fill in the gaps in shark and ray species research becomes stronger. The more we know about the behaviour, migration routes and distribution of shark and ray species, the better conservation efforts can be implemented. The massive vote for the protection of elasmobranchs at CoP19 may not have happened if it were not for the solid research conducted and studies written evidencing the critical status of the species. We would like to thank our colleagues in the field of marine science who have contributed to establishing this enormous win for shark species globally.

February 2003

Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) and whale shark (Rhincodon typus) added to Appendix II

February 2003

January 2005

Great while shark (Carcharodon carcharias) added to Appendix II

January 2005

September 2007

7 species of sawfishes (Pristidae) added to Appendix I

September 2007

September 2014

Porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus), oceanic whitetip shark (Carcharinus longimanus), Scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini), great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran), smooth hammerhead shark (Sphyrna zygaena) and all manta rays (Manta) added to Appendix II

September 2014

April 2017

All devil rays (Mobula) added to Appendix II

April 2017

October 2017

All thresher sharks (Alopias) and silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) added to Appendix II

October 2017

November 2022

All requiem sharks (Carcharhinidae), 6 species of hammerhead sharks 
(Sphyrnidae) and 37 types of guitarfish (Rhinobatidae) added to Appendix II

November 2022

Source: CITES

Sharks in the Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique

Located on Benguerra Island, in the heart of the Bazaruto Archipelago, we come across many sharks on a routine basis. With approximately 147 shark and ray species recorded in Mozambique, the Bazaruto Archipelago is considered part of a hotspot that stretches along the Mozambican coastline. See below for an overview of sharks that are regularly sighted in the archipelago and their global population’s status according to the IUCN Red List.

 

For questions about this article, please contact:
Iris Uijttewaal, Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies
Iris.Uijttewaal@bcssmz.org

Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies
Host of the first permanent Ocean Observatory focused on multi-ecosystem time series research in Africa, the Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies (BCSS) was established in 2017 as in independent, non-profit organisation with a mission to protect and support the fragile ecosystems of the Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique. The research station is located on Benguerra Island, off the coast of Mozambique.

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