In a victory for our oceans, conservationists are celebrating new regulations that went into force over the weekend that will offer greater protection for five species of sharks and two species of rays in a move they hope will forever change the shark fin trade.
In March of last year member nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) voted to regulate the international trade of five commercially fished shark species and two species of manta rays by adding them to CITES Appendix II, which brings the second highest level of protection.
Over the past 18 months, global communities have been working together to implement the new regulations that will now apply to oceanic whitetip sharks, three species of hammer head sharks (great, scalloped and smooth) porbeagle sharks and two species of manta rays.
According to CITES, this is the first time that shark species with a great commercial value who have been traded in high volumes have been added Appendix II, which will help ensure unsustainable fishing practices are stopped.
As conservationists continue to point out, healthy marine ecosystems need sharks but overfishing has pushed, and continues to push, many species to the brink. An estimated 100 million sharks are killed around the world every year, while more than a quarter of all shark and ray species are now endangered or threatened with extinction.
Species under the new designation can still be caught, but member governments that want to continue to hunt sharks and rays will have to prove trade in these species is sustainable and fishermen will need to get permits to hunt them and will need to be able to confirm they haven’t been illegally killed.
According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, member countries have been working towards educating officials about shark and ray identification and ways to determine if sharks were illegally killed, in addition to working on scientific assessments that will help determine whether continued trade will hurt shark and ray species in preparation of or the change.
“We are witnessing an incredible focus on implementation all over the world,” said Imogen Zethoven, director of global shark conservation for Pew. “It’s thrilling to see the global commitment to shark conservation. We must continue to develop shark protections globally so we can ensure the health of the oceans we all share.”
CITES Secretary-General, John E. Scanlon called the change the most comprehensive global effort to protect these species in the 40-year history of CITES, further stating:
Regulating international trade in these shark and manta ray species is critical to their survival and is a very tangible way of helping to protect the biodiversity of our oceans. The practical implementation of these listings will involve issues such as determining sustainable export levels, verifying legality, and identifying the fins, gills and meat that are in trade. This may seem challenging, but by working together we can do it and we will do it.