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Setting our Sights on CITES

Using the power of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to help protect marine species

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International trade in wild plants and animals is estimated to be worth billions of dollars a year and, in too many cases, it threatens species survival. Project AWARE uses the power of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to help protect threatened, commercially valuable marine species, sharks and rays in particular - sought for fins, wings, gill plates, meat, oil, teeth and cartilage – from the devastating effects of unregulated, international trade.

image of CITES logo CoP18During the upcoming meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP18) – to be held in Columbo, Sri Lanka from 23 May to 3 June 2018 – countries that have agreed to implement the Convention will review 57 proposals, ranging from giraffes, elephants, butterflies, cedar trees and even wooly mammoth tusks, to consider adopting trade restrictions on these species. At this meeting, the marine species put forward for consideration include the two species of mako shark, guitarfish, wedgefish, and sea cucumbers.

Focus on #CITES4Sharks

At the annual meeting of the CITES Standing Committee, held in Moscow in October 2018, the Governments of Senegal, Sri Lanka, and Mexico announced that they would sponsor proposals to list 6 species of guitarfish and 10 species of wedgefish under Appendix II which restricts international trade only to populations that are deemed sustainable. Mexico also voiced their support for mako sharks and confirmed that they would be submitting a proposal to list both species of mako shark (Longfin and Shortfin) on Appendix II, bringing the number of elasmobranchs being considered for listing to 18.

Project AWARE, together with partner organizations and shark advocates around the world, is committed to ensuring progress for sharks and rays but we need YOU.

We're setting our sights on CITES

Since the announcement by Mexico in Moscow, 27 countries and the European Union have confirmed their support for the listing of both shortfin and longfin makos, the world’s fastest sharks, for Appendix II listing.

image of divers 4 makos petitionProject AWARE and our partners in the Shark League have been pushing for reducing fishing pressure on mako sharks for a number of years, backed by everyone who signed our #Divers4Makos petition. Securing their inclusion on CITES will give us more ammo to push fishing nations to limit their catches. CITES only partially restricts international trade in listed species and doesn’t put any obligations on countries to reduce fishing pressure. Project AWARE will make sure that if countries support listing these species on CITES Appendix II, then they will follow through with these commitments to actively reduce fishing pressure on mako sharks, and other vulnerable shark and ray species.image of love the unloved


  • With 183 Member Parties, CITES provides an international framework for monitoring and controlling trade between countries in species at risk and penalizing violations. CITES-listed species are subject to strict trade controls and verifications. For highly endangered species, commercial international trade in all CITES-listed species can essentially be shut down.
  • International trade in shark and ray species, too often, drives overfishing, which - together with overconsumption and bycatch - drive depletion. Controlling international trade through this powerful tool for biodiversity conservation can help reduce the pressure on commercially valuable shark and ray populations.
  • To date, more than 35,000 species of plants and animals are listed under CITES. Increased commitment by Parties to effectively implement the treaty has helped control global overexploitation of wildlife and improve legislation at the national level to enforce CITES. Increased regional communication among Parties has also improved conservation of wildlife across political borders.
  • Project AWARE’s work at CITES CoP18 is part of a wider strategy to work with governments and advocate for policy change to help protect sharks and rays from overexploitation.  An Appendix II listing for mako sharks, if implemented properly, could provide useful information and data to Regional Fisheries Management Organisations and assist them in carrying out their mandate.

CITES and Sharks Over the Years

While CITES has helped restrict trade for a myriad of terrestrial species, the effort to list sharks and marine fish is still a relatively new ground and has resulted in difficult battles. Sharks have been on CITES agenda since 1994 with CITES trade controls going into effect for basking and whale sharks in 2002, great white sharks in 2004, and CITES trade ban for 6 out of the 7 sawfishes in 2007.

In 2010 - when eight worthy and heavily fished shark species were denied listing - more than 130,000 of us voiced our disappointment to CITES member countries.

Nearly 6 years of committed advocacy work later, we were thrilled that our collective voice was heard. Every single supporter played their part in securing these commitments.

Momentum for trade restrictions for sharks and rays continues to grow, with a record number of governments co-sponsoring one or more listing proposals in the lead-up to this year’s meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP18).

image of CITES CoP18 BannerIn May 2018, Ian Campbell, Project AWARE Associate Director Policy and Campaigns, will head to Sri Lanka to:

  • Meet with national governments to make the case to adopt all shark species up for consideration.

  • Offer support to lobby for the inclusion of sea cucumbers at the CoP18

  • Keep the pressure on the government officials to make sure they understand that our global community of ocean adventurers, people that they are meant to represent,  have an eye on them

We're confident that together with our partners we'll be successful in getting the proposed marine species listed, but we know that we can’t sit back and think “job done”. CITES only partially restricts international trade in listed species and doesn’t put any obligations on countries to reduce fishing pressure. We will make sure that if countries support the listing of mako sharks on CITES, then they will follow through with these commitments to actively reduce fishing pressure on makos and other vulnerable shark and ray species.

Although the tide is turning for sharks and rays, the listing of commercially valuable fish under CITES, and conservation and management measures aimed at combating unsustainable shark and ray fishing through international forums continue to face vigorous opposition. But Project AWARE is delivering a united voice in support of trade controls and sustainable fishing for the most vulnerable shark and ray species.

Your Support in Action

In April 2016, we applauded the growing support for proposals to control trade in thirteen commercially valuable shark and ray species. In the run-up to CITES CoP17, we mobilized our community and presented strong arguments in support of the devil rays, thresher sharks and silky shark Appendix II proposals submitted by the Maldives, Fiji and Sri Lanka and supported by fifty CITES Parties including the European Union.

image of CITES CoP17#Divers4SharksNRays - Project AWARE’s global campaign in the fight to save sharks and rays at risk - rallied the scuba diving community to encourage CITES Parties to vote YES for sharks and rays in September 2016 and show decision makers that the dive community is serious about protecting sharks and rays from unsustainable, unmanaged and unregulated international trade.

We know from previous historic advances in international shark and ray conservation that the dive community can contribute to helping win protections for vulnerable shark and ray species. Our collective voice has the power to help bring a positive outcome for marine species at CITES CoP18 and beyond.

#LoveTheUnloved and add your name to the #Divers4Makos petition!

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From the My Ocean Community

My Ocean is a growing community of conservation leaders. Together, our actions add up to global impact for our ocean planet.