A lot of debate among conservationists centers on the conflict between the desire to see a species totally protected from human exploitation and the reality that market forces will continue to exist (see the latest on shark fin bans for a very good example). Ideally, a conservation plan should strike a balance, ensuring the continued existence of the species while still allowing people to profit from it in some way. This also requires a clear idea of the limitations of conservation policies. For example, US policies (even the mighty Endangered Species Act) only directly affect populations within the territorial waters of the United States, while international agreements like CITES restrict trade of the species without telling any particular country what to do domestically. However, there are ways to track the interaction between conservation policies and the market, making it possible to make some predictions on how things like fishery management plans and CITES listings might affect trade. Then it gets interesting. Armed with this knowledge, can the market be pushed towards species conservation?
A newly-released list of proposed amendments for the upcoming CITES Conference of the Parties includes proposals to protect ten species of sharks and rays, a record-breaking number. These include three species of hammerheads, oceanic whitetip sharks, porbeagle sharks, three species of freshwater stingray, and both species of manta ray.
In total, 37 countries are involved in the proposed amendments. As expected, the United States is a co-sponsor of the oceanic whitetip measure. Additional noteworthy participants include major shark fishing nations like Mexico (co-sponsoring the hammerhead proposal) and the European Union (co-sponsoring the hammerhead and leading the porbeagle proposals).
“International trade is a major driver for shark fisheries around the world, and yet controls on this exploitation are woefully insufficient,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International. “We are grateful for continued U.S. leadership in addressing international shark trade, and welcome this unprecedented number of proposals to safeguard these vulnerable species under CITES.”
Threats to these animals are diverse and include directed catch for both fins and meat, bycatch, alternative medicine (gill rakers), and even the aquarium trade. Each of the freshwater stingray species are considered Data Deficient by the IUCN Red List, scalloped and great hammerheads are considered Endangered, and the other species are Vulnerable.
Species of elasmobranchs currently protected by CITES include the great white shark, whale shark, basking shark, and all species of sawfish. Porbeagles, oceanic whitetips, and hammerheads were proposed for CITES protections in 2010, but the measures failed.
Each of these proposals aims to list a species under CITES Appendix II, which requires that any international export of these species be certified as sustainable (including the issuing of permits). The discussion will take place next March at the 16th CITES Conference of the Parties in Bangkok, Thailand.