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Shark conservation is not off to a good start at CITES

The first shark conservation proposal at CITES has been defeated. This was not a proposed appendix II listing that I wrote about yesterday, but rather a nonbinding measure that “called for increased transparency in the shark trade and more research into the threat posed to sharks by illegal fishing” (from the AP article linked to above). If a non-binding measure that doesn’t actually ban any trade in shark products can’t pass, that’s not a good sign. Why did some countries vote against this non-binding measure to support research and increase transparency?

“China and Russia argued that shark populations aren’t suffering. Japan insisted that current measures in place are more than adequate. Developing countries like Libya and Morocco complained that any effort to protect sharks would damage the economies of poor fishing nations and burden them with expensive enforcement requirements” (also from the AP article linked to above).

Let’s break down these arguments.

1) Shark populations aren’t suffering. That’s patently ridiculous. All the scientific evidence points to large declines in the populations of many species of sharks. Fisheries landings in legally-managed shark fisheries are falling (or have already fallen so far that the fishery has been abandoned). Fishery-independent monitoring surveys worldwide show large declines in shark populations. It’s pretty hard for me to take someone seriously if their argument is that “sharks are doing just fine, they don’t need any protection”.

2) Current protection measures are adequate. See above. If populations of so many species are declining this rapidly, current protection measures are not adequate. Also, what protection measures is Japan referencing? In large parts of the world, there aren’t any.

3) Protecting sharks hurts poor fishermen. I actually agree with this one. Lots of desperately poor people around the world are able to feed their families as a result of fishing for sharks, and without that income, they will be in big trouble. However, the loss of sharks can destabilize food chains which can hurt even more fishermen, and lack of management will mean that this source of income will disappear soon anyway. Also, you can basically use this argument against any conservation effort.

4) Here’s a final thought. This proposal was for a non-binding resolution to study how illegal fishing hurts sharks and to call for transparency in the shark finning trade and didn’t actually affect legal shark commerce in any way whatsoever, which makes the arguments used by these nations to counter it a little bizarre. Either these countries were practicing their arguments against the appendix II listings I wrote about yesterday, or they are actually claiming that we shouldn’t interfere with a large-scale illegal and behind-closed-doors fishing industry on the basis of jobs. I’m sorry, but as sympathetic as I am to the plight of the fishermen in today’s heavily-regulated ocean, you just can’t convince me that we shouldn’t try to stop illegal and unregulated fishing.


UPDATE: Lesley Rochat has the final votes tallied on this proposal:

“Supporters included South Africa, the EU, and the USA, but the vote results were 52 in favour, 36 against and 11 abstentions, thus missing the two-thirds required to be accepted, and so the document was rejected.”

UPDATE: A statement from Marie Levine, the President of the Shark Research Institute:

“The document defeated yesterday was an overview of shark species of concern to the parties drafted by the animals committee in 2007, The debate was useful because it spotlighted those parties who may oppose the shark proposals and they voiced their concerns about current species under consideration. This allows us to address their concerns before the vote on the shark proposals. We are still optimistic.”