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Sharks and Manta Rays Receive Protection Under CITES

Shark/ray proponent country representatives at 16th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES. From left to right: Eduardo Espinoza (Ecuador), Maurice Clarke (Ireland), Elizabeth Taylor Jay (Colombia), Bryan Arroyo (United States) Paulino Franco de Carvalho Neto (Brazil) and Feargal O Coiglig (Ireland).


Portrait of an Oceanic Whitetip shark, (Charcharhinus longimanus). The Bahamas. Photo Credit: Brian Skerry 


Manta Rays. Photo Credit: Dez Paroz CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

March 14, 2013

This week is marked by a historic conservation milestone for sharks and rays globally.  At this year’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Conference of the Parties meeting in Bangkok, countries agreed to increase protection for five commercially-exploited species of sharks and manta rays.  CITES member nations, referred to as “Parties”, voted in support of listing the oceanic whitetip shark, three species of hammerhead sharks (scalloped, smooth, and great), the porbeagle shark and manta rays in CITES Appendix II – an action that means increased protection, but still allows legal and sustainable trade.

The 16th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES will be remembered as a historic moment in shark and ray conservation,” said Bryan Arroyo, head of the U.S. delegation to the treaty’s 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties in Bangkok.  “The decline of these commercially-exploited species is a global challenge that must be met with global solutions.  At this meeting, the CITES Parties have taken decisive action to protect these vulnerable species from over-exploitation for international trade and help to maintain sustainable fishery resources.”

Leading up to and during this meeting, the United States has worked with a coalition of countries committed to gaining support for these proposals. “The leadership of the proponent countries—Brazil, Colombia, the European Union, Costa Rica, Honduras, Ecuador, Mexico, Comoros, Egypt, and the United States—and the strong support from other CITES Parties, particularly countries in West Africa, including Senegal and Sierra Leone, gave these proposals the political will that was needed to get them over the finish line,” said Mr. Arroyo.

Sharks are over-harvested in many parts of the world, primarily for their fins. Most shark fins are exported to Asia, where they are a main ingredient in shark fin soup, which is considered a delicacy in many Asian countries. Due to their low productivity and high economic value, populations of these shark species have suffered severe declines.  Porbeagle sharks also face pressures due to demand for their meat, while manta rays are over-harvested for their gill plates.

While some regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) have adopted measures to manage sharks, these regional measures alone cannot ensure the international trade of this species is globally sustainable. Not all range countries are members of RFMOs and many marine species that are traded internationally swim long distances, often crossing national boundaries. For these species, conservation can only be achieved by working collaboratively with other nations.

"Sharks and manta rays are extremely important to the ocean ecosystems," said Sam Rauch, of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  "The global protection that CITES offers these incredible species will complement existing international shark protection measures by ensuring their trade is sustainable and does not threaten their survival.  We are thrilled these important shark and ray proposals were adopted and applaud the leadership of the many countries that helped us get there."

What is CITES?

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement initiated in 1973 and is currently signed by 180 countries regulating global trade in imperiled wild animals and plants including their parts and products.  A meeting of the Conference of the Parties is held every 2-3 years to decide on issues related to interpretation and implementation of the treaty and on changes to the lists of species in the CITES Appendices.