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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Traveling with Samples: the impossible journey

It’s the end of a long a productive field season abroad. You’ve collected, processed, and packed thousands of precious samples. These samples are your life-blood. They will be the foundation of not only your thesis, but dozens of theses to follow, the cornerstone of a long and prosperous scientific career. There’s only one barrier left between you and scientific glory – you have to get those samples home.

Traveling with samples, especially internationally, carries with it a bit of diplomacy, some tact, confidence, and a huge amount of (often undue) stress. Even if you’re completely on the level, there are horror stories about overzealous security guards, irate customs agents, suspicious packages, and the risk of being detained, having a visa revoked, being stuck on the next plane out of the country, or, worst of all, losing your samples. As you pack up your gear and prepare to board your flight home, take a step back and remember the immortal words of Douglas Adams – don’t panic.

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Commercial Interests Trump Endangered Species

The 15th United Nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species is meeting this week in Doha, Qatar to revise the current list of species protected under international trade agreements. On the proposed list for this year are Blue Fin Tuna, Nile Crocodile, Polar Bears, eight species of shark, and an entire family of red and pink corals. For those keeping score at home, the current results for marine animals are as follows.

  • No protection for Blue Fin Tuna
  • No new protection for Polar Bears
  • No protection for Nile Crocodiles
  • No protection for Oceanic Whitetip Sharks
  • No protection CITES II listing No protection for Porbeagle Sharks
  • No protection for Spiny Dogfish
  • No protection for Dusky sharks
  • No protection for Great Hammerheads
  • No protection for Smooth Hammerheads
  • No protection for Scalloped Hammerheads
  • No protection for Sandbar Sharks
  • No protection for the Corallidae family of red and pink corals

So much for that.

~Southern Fried Scientist

A cry for reason at CITES

Edward Dorson, the Director of Conservation Strategies for the Shark Research Institute, has published an excellent editorial about CITES in the Gulf Times, which describes itself as “Qatar’s top-selling English daily newspaper”. The editorial can be found here.

Here are some highlights, though I recommend reading the whole article.

“All trade in a species vanishes when that species no longer exists.”

“A prime responsibility of all generations is to ensure that the world left to the next one is at least as vital and habitable to the one we live in today. Natural processes can’t be compromised or bartered.”

“Many nations are contributing to this tragedy…countries with damaged economies or a quick-fix determinism to prey upon the natural world until all is consumed. Surely this is outright madness.”


CITES update: Bluefin and crocodiles and polar bears? Oh my!

The latest news out of CITES isn’t encouraging.  Marie Levine, President of the Shark Research Institute, is attending and made the following statement:

“Animals did not fare well at CITES today. The USA’s bid to have the polar bear uplisted from Appendix II to Appendix I was defeated, as was  Egypt’s attempt to have the Nile crocodile listed on Appendix II.
The biggest loss, however, was the Atlantic bluefin tuna. The species is heavily over-exploited by  massive international trade, and is listed as Critically Endangered in the Western Atlantic. The species was proposed for Appendix I due to The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT)  repeated failures to adopt science-based conservation measures for bluefin tuna. For example, while ICCAT’s Standing Committee on Research and Statistics recommended a Total Allowable Catch of 15,000 tons for 2007, the members of ICCAT set a Total Allowable Catch of 29,000 for that year!

The proposal lost by a huge margin: 20 votes in support, 68 against, and 30 abstentions. Because it was a secret ballot, it is not possible to determine the countries that voted for the proposal aside from the USA and Monaco. We can report, however, that the following countries spoke against the proposal: Japan, UAE, Tunisia, Canada, Indonesia, Grenada, Senegal, Turkey, Morocco, Chile, Venezuela, and Libya. The latter provided some entertainment with arguments so absurd that even the translators laughed. Japan pulled out all stops to ensure that these iconic fish have virtually no protection and are theirs for the plundering. “

I don’t really know why people are so surprised about the bluefin tuna situation. Sure, they are heavily exploited and present populations are a small fraction of their historical highs. Sure, they are one of very few fish species that might actually be driven to extinction by fishing because one fish can sell for tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars. However, the bluefin tuna trade is worth a lot of money, and CITES is a political process as much as it is a scientific one. Call me a cynic if you want, but it seems like the side with the money tends to win in many political processes.

Frankly, I’m surprised that there was so much support for a ban on bluefin trade.

What does this mean for sharks? Well, like sharks, the demand for bluefin comes primarily from one country (in this case, Japan instead of China). Like sharks, bluefin tuna are made into a delicacy and not a food staple. Like sharks, there is an enormous amount of scientific evidence showing the declines of bluefin tuna populations. Like sharks, trade of bluefin tuna is worth a lot of money.

I grow discouraged.


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?

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Sharks and CITES

The  15th meeting of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as CITES, has begun, and representatives of 175 countries are meeting in Doha, Qatar. CITES rules have the power to make international trade of plant and animal species illegal, which has enormous significance for their conservation. 8 shark species have been proposed for CITES protection under appendix II- oceanic whitetip sharks, porbeagle sharks, spiny dogfish (commonly used for fish and chips in the UK), dusky sharks, three species of hammerheads (great, smooth, and scalloped), and my study animal the sandbar shark.

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