CITES CoP16 opens next week
A record number of shark and ray species are being proposed for listing at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which starts next week. Because international trade is central to the exploitation of marine species, CITES is a vital tool in the conservation of sharks and rays. International trade in the majority of shark and ray species is virtually unregulated. Delegates from 177 countries will vote on proposals to list oceanic whitetip shark, porbeagle, three species of hammerheads, all manta rays and two freshwater rays on CITES Appendix II, and a sawfish on Appendix I.
A CITES Appendix I listing results in ban on international commercial trade. Trade in an Appendix II species requires export permits that can only be issued after the trade is demonstrated to be both legal and sustainable.
CITES Conference of Parties (CoP) convenes every three years. To date, whale sharks, basking sharks and white sharks are the only shark species listed on Appendix II, and all but one species of sawfish are listed on Appendix I.
Sharks and rays are at great risk across the globe. They grow slowly, mature late, and produce few young, leaving them exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing. The international market demand is a major cause for declines of shark and ray populations.
Shark fins, used in an Asian celebratory soup, are among the world’s most valuable fishery products. Shark and ray meat is valued in Europe and the gill rakers of some rays are prized for Chinese medicine.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies roughly one-third of assessed shark and ray species as Threatened or Near Threatened. All the species under consideration at CITES next week are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and some populations are considered Critically Endangered. Existing legislation and regulations are not enough to reverse declines in their populations. Continued depletion of these species jeopardizes ecosystems, livelihoods, and, in many cases, eco-tourism.