It’s official! Five species of threatened sharks, and two species of manta rays have been added to Appendix II of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna). After several days of suspense since the listings were first approved on Monday, the protections were finalised today in the plenary session of the 16th Conference of the Parties in Bangkok. As expected, China and Japan attempted to reopen the debate on these listings, but their efforts were defeated.
It’s difficult to convey just how important this CITES outcome is for elasmobranch conservation – we still can’t quite believe it’s finally happened! After years of intense efforts by shark conservationists, CITES is going to play a role in regulating the trade in fins from highly threatened sharks such as hammerheads and porbeagles.
On the one hand, we’re celebrating this huge achievement. On the other hand, it’s no cause for celebration at all – CITES listings are generally a sign of failure to regulate wildlife exploitation. The seven elasmobranch species added to Appendix II are there because ongoing international trade has driven significant declines, and fisheries management has been insufficient to ensure sustainability.
The listing is only a first step towards regulating their trade – now begins the very challenging task of implementation. Countries now have 18 months to establish monitoring and enforcement processes, to ensure that they can identify the listed species in trade, and determine whether their export can deemed non-detrimental, and therefore be permitted. As we’ve seen with the freshwater sawfish (Pristis microdon), which was uplisted from Appendix II to Appendix I (i.e., trade prohibition) at this meeting, trade regulation is no guarantee of population recovery.
Meanwhile, the CITES listings do not shift any of the responsibility for elasmobranch management away from national and international fisheries authorities. If anything, the impetus is even stronger to monitor, assess, and regulate the capture of these species – as well as the many other threatened sharks and rays whose trade remains unregulated.