On August 15th 2011, Project AWARE Foundation and Shark Advocates International sent a letter to the United States Fish And Wildlife Service as part of a public comment process regarding potential U.S. proposals for listing sharks and other species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This comment period marks an initial, but critical step toward securing trade protections for sharks and rays at the next Conference of the CITES Parties in March 2013 in Thailand.
In our submission, we noted that we were strong proponents of the U.S. and European Union (EU)-led proposals to regulate trade in commercially valuable shark species under CITES Appendix II at the CITES Conference held last year in Qatar. We shared our community’s dismay with the failure of these proposals as more than 75,000 divers and supporters have signed the Project AWARE CITES petition.
The focus of our letter was to request the U.S. government to promote CITES action for several particularly vulnerable sharks and rays: hammerheads, oceanic whitetips, porbeagles, spiny dogfish, and devil rays. Persistent demand for these species’ parts (fins, meat, and – in the case of devil rays – gill rakers) is driving targeted fisheries, retention of bycatch, and substantial international trade. Controls on fishing are woefully insufficient and, as a result, most of these populations are classified as Threatened by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
Listing these shark and ray species under CITES Appendix II holds great promise for:
- Improving data on the extent of fisheries and trade
- Sparking complementary fisheries management measures, and ultimately
- Ensuring that international trade is held to sustainable levels
Despite these potential benefits, the only shark species currently listed (under CITES Appendix II) are basking, whale, and white sharks. Most species of sawfish (Critically Endangered rays) are included in CITES Appendix I, which essentially amounts to a ban on commercial trade, while one Australian sawfish species is listed under Appendix II, and still traded live for display in aquariums. Of the eight shark species proposed unsuccessfully for CITES listing in 2010, the porbeagle fared best: Committee approval of the proposal was narrowly overturned in a controversial plenary vote taken in the final hours of the meeting.
We are hopeful that our arguments for prioritizing the listing of these species coupled with our community’s solid demonstration of support for shark and ray trade measures will help build the political will needed to ensure decisive CITES action for sharks in 2013.