Breaking news: CITES protections for hammerheads, manta rays, and oceanic whitetips proposed

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.

5 things you need to know about the proposed European Union shark finning ban, including how you can help

Image from Jessica King, Marine Photobank

All eyes in the shark world are focused on Belgium, where the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee votes Wednesday on one of the most significant conservation policies in years: a stronger EU-wide ban on shark finning via a prohibition on removing sharks at sea, with no more  exceptions. Since some of the details are quite technical, emotions are running high, and a lot of misinformation is spreading, I’ve prepared a quick guide to help our readers understand the proposed policy. For much more detailed updates, follow the Shark Alliance’s blog.

1) The proposed policy would strengthen the current EU finning ban, not ban fins. As has previously been discussed, some of the language surrounding shark conservation policy can be confusing. As a reminder, shark finning is the act of removing fins from a shark at sea and dumping the body overboard. Finning of live sharks is incredibly inhumane (the “finned” shark will bleed to death or drown when dumped overboard), and incredibly wasteful whether the shark is alive or dead (less than 5% of the shark is used). Scientists are almost universally opposed to shark finning because it is often associated with  unsustainable fishing and the practice makes it difficult for managers to know what species of shark the fin came from. The policy that the European Parliament is voting on is an amendment to the current EU  “finning ban”,” which relies on a complicated and lenient fin to carcass ratio for enforcement.  The European Commission has proposed requiring that sharks be landed with fins still attached, which would strengthen enforcement and data collection capabilities. This is not a “fin ban” that would make it illegal to buy, sell, or possess fins.

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What shark finning means (and doesn’t mean): a primer and quiz

Shark finning, one of the most wasteful, unsustainable, and inhumane methods of gathering food in the history of human civilization, has rightly become a hot topic in the marine conservation movement. However, there is a great deal of confusion among activists concerning this problem and the best way to solve it. Those of you who follow me on twitter have seen me point out numerous recent anti-finning “awareness campaigns” which feature photographs of sharks that have not actually been finned.

Shark finning does not mean removing the fins from a shark. This is really important and seems to be a source of some confusion- not every shark fin for sale in markets is the result of shark finning! Shark finning means removing the fins from a shark while still on the fishing vessel and dumping the rest of the shark overboard. This is a problem because its wasteful (less than 10% of the weight of a shark is used), because its easy to quickly overfish a population even from a small boat (fins don’t take up a lot of space on board), and because its almost impossible for managers to know how many of each species were harvested. As stated above, this practice is also shockingly inhumane, as the sharks are often still alive when they are dumped overboard.

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Securing the Conservation of Sharks and Rays

At the 2nd International Marine Conservation Congress, Dr. Nick Dulvy and the IUCN Shark Specialist Group organized a special symposium called “Securing the Conservation of Sharks and Rays”. This symposium featured leading scientists, international policy experts, the founder of a creative non-profit, a National Geographic conservation photographer… and me. It was, without a doubt, the greatest professional honor of my (admittedly brief so far) career.

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Does shark conservation result in more shark attacks?

Captain Bill, image from SharkManOfCortez.com

Meet Captain Bill Goldschmitt, an author, blogger, and commercial shark fisherman. Captain Bill is a passionate, opinionated, and influential man in the world of shark conservation and management. Unfortunately, the opinions that he chooses to passionately share are wildly incorrect. Captain Bill is a leading proponent of many ideas that have no basis in reality, including the notion that shark conservation efforts lead to an increased danger for humans from shark attacks.

He repeats this idea often on his blog. In recent months, he has written that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has declared “open season” on Florida bathers by even considering new shark protection efforts, pleaded with Shark Week to focus more on how dangerous sharks are and less on their dwindling numbers and ecological importance, and compared shark conservationists to those who apologize for al-Qaeda terrorists.

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Hooray for California, but there’s still much work to be done to save sharks

 

Photo credit: Jessica King, Marine Photobank

Earlier today,  the California legislature voted to approve AB 376,  the excitingly titled “act to add section 2021 to the Fish and Game Code,  relating to sharks”. The ocean conservation community is happy,  and we should be. The bill and its backing from Hollywood stars have generated substantial media coverage of the plight of sharks,  and,  if signed into law by the Governor and properly enforced,  it could well save a lot of sharks. However,  fin bans aren’t the perfect solution to the shark conservation crisis,  and we still have a lot of work to do to protect sharks and closely related species around the world.

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Send testimony to help protect Guam’s sharks!

The sharks of Guam need your help! Bill number 44-31, which would make selling or possessing shark fins illegal in Guam, was just introduced by members of the Senate. The Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the bill next Tuesday night Guam time, which is Monday night our time.

This bill is expected to face strong opposition from the fishing industry, which has a powerful voice.  However, you can help! You send a letter in support of this policy to Shark Defenders, and they will make sure that it gets into the right hands.  Many of the letters will be read out loud as testimony, and receiving a large number of letters in support of the law will be a big help!

Please send these letters to Info AT SharkDefenders DOT com by Monday afternoon U.S. East Coast time (sooner would be better).

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Sharks get new protections at ICCAT

Last week, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas met in Paris. Among other responsibilities (such as the conservation of Atlantic tunas), ICCAT sets guidelines for several shark fisheries. My friend Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International, was there representing SAI. She is optimistic about a series of new shark conservation measures that the Commission adopted.

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A global shark conservation challenge from Palau and Micronesia

Yesterday afternoon, the Presidents of Honduras and Palau challenged other world leaders to follow their example by protecting sharks. Both nations have banned shark fishing within their territorial waters, and they are encouraging other nations (both rich countries with fishing fleets and poor coastal countries) to do the same. This announcement was timed to coincide with a high-level United Nations meeting to review millennium development and global biodiversity conservation goals.

The two Presidents had this to say:

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