Jim Abernethy/Pew Environment Group
Scalloped hammerhead shark, one of five species, plus the manta ray, that was voted for protection during the 2013 annual meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok.

Fewer Sharks to Land in Soup Pot, Thanks to New International Protections


Conservationists are eagerly awaiting this week’s plenary vote on shark protections at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), after more than two thirds of the group’s member countries voted to protect several species from commercial exploitation.

Five shark species—porbeagle, oceanic whitetip and three hammerhead species (smooth, scalloped and great)—as well as the manta ray, on March 11 won the two-thirds majority necessary to get onto a list that requires anyone fishing them to obtain permits, ensuring that exports are sustainable and legal, Environmental News Service (ENS) newswire reported.

The vote paved the way for adding shark and ray species to the CITES listing for the first time in 40 years, ENS said. The proposals were sponsored by Latin American and European countries, supported by the U.S., and opposed by China and Japan. The committee vote came on the heels of a report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization that 100 million sharks are killed annually, with the slow-growing, late-maturing species dying faster than they can replace their numbers, according to a study published in the journal Marine Policy.

"Our analysis shows that about one in 15 sharks gets killed by fisheries every year," said Boris Worm, a biology professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Novia Scotia, Canada, in a March 1 statement. He was a lead author on the study. "With an increasing demand for their fins, sharks are more vulnerable today than ever before. Protective measures must be scaled up significantly in order to avoid further depletion and the possible extinction of many shark species.”

Although the actual numbers of sharks killed in fisheries ranges anywhere from 63 million to 273 million annually, commercial fisheries are only part of the problem. Overfishing is also hurting shark numbers. Shark fins grace dining tables across Asia as a key ingredient in soup, especially those of the hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks, LiveScience.com reported. According to ENS, shark fins can bring a seller up to $700 per pound. And porbeagle shark meat is craved across Europe.

"This groundbreaking study confirms that people are killing an enormous number of sharks," said Elizabeth Wilson, manager of global shark conservation at the Pew Charitable Trusts, in a statement released on March 1. "We are now the predators. Humans have mounted an unrelenting assault on sharks, and their numbers are crashing throughout the world’s oceans."

The end result is that several species are near extinction, shark advocates said, welcoming the CITES committee support.

“We are delighted by the outcome of today’s votes for listing several species of sharks under CITES, and hopeful that these historic decisions will be upheld in plenary later this week,” said Sonja Fordham, president and founder of the conservation group Shark Advocates International, in a statement from the Shark Trust, another conservation group. “These highly traded, threatened shark species urgently need protection from the unsustainable trade that jeopardizes populations, ecosystems, livelihoods, and ecotourism.”

The committee vote was taken during CITES’ annual meeting, which is taking place in Bangkok this week. The plenary vote could happen as early as Thursday March 14.

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