Shark protections, shark careers, and sharky grammar: Dear Shark Man, Volume 1

Welcome to volume #1 of Dear Shark Man, an advice column inspired by a ridiculous e-mail I received. You can send your questions to me via twitter (@WhySharksMatter) or e-mail (WhySharksMatter at gmail).

Dear Shark Man,

Have you seen this New Scientist article (“Sharks now protected no matter whose waters they swim in?)
Is this good news? It seems too good to be true.

Skeptical in Seattle

Dear Skeptical,

You are correct to be, um, skeptical. At best, this article is an oversimplification of a very complex problem. Many shark species migrate through the territorial waters of multiple nations, which complicates any conservation and management plans for these species. The Convention on Migratory Species, which is what the New Scientist article is about, is an attempt to help. However, a CMS listing is only the first step, and it does not inherently require any legal protections. Thus far, CMS listings for sharks have not resulted in any concrete legal protections for these species. The World Wildlife Fund’s shark expert, Ian Campbell, has written a great summary of why this CMS news is not the be-all end-all solution that many seem to believe, check it out here:

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A guide to following shark and ray conservation at this week’s Convention on Migratory Species meeting

This week, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) will have its 11th Conference of the Parties in Quito, Ecuador. While less well-known than the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES,) CMS is another very important international wildlife conservation treaty. As the name suggests, it focuses on the conservation of species that migrate across national political borders. This meeting includes several  proposals for listing species of sharks and rays on the CMS Appendices. In fact, most of the proposals are for elasmobranchs this time.


How does CMS work?

Like CITES, CMS allows member states to propose listing of threatened species on different appendices, which have different levels of protection. Appendix I obligates strict protection of that species by member states, where appendix II encourages member states to cooperate in the management of that species through regional or global agreements.  Currently, basking sharks, great white sharks, and oceanic mantas are listed on appendix I, and whale sharks, makos, porbeagles, and northern hemisphere spiny dogfish are listed on Appendix II. There are also non-binding “memoranda of understanding,” such as the 2010 MOU on migratory sharks. As of May of this year, CMS has 120 parties. This paper by Holly Edwards is a good introduction to how it all works.

What exactly does listing do for a species?

The specific actions required to follow up on these listings are basically up to the CMS parties themselves, and the required actions are not particularly clear for Appendix II. Mako sharks were listed on CMS Appendix II in 2008, for example, and they don’t yet have internationally agreed-upon catch limits. Appendix I listings for basking sharks helped lead to European Union fishing prohibitions for these species, though.

Shark and ray conservation proposals

There are a series of shark and ray conservation proposals listed for the CMS 2014 conference of the parties. These include Appendix II listings for hammerhead sharks (great and scalloped), thresher sharks (all three species), and silky sharks, as well as listings on Appendix I and II for reef manta rays, all 9 species of mobula rays, and all species of sawfish. Project AWAREShark Advocates International, Defenders of Wildlife, Humane Society International, Shark Trust, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare have produced some fact sheets and the Pew Environment Group has summaries of each of these proposals except the sawfish ones. The shark and ray proposals are expected to be introduced and debated Thursday morning, but we will likely not know the outcome until next Monday.

How do I follow along?

The main meeting hashtag is #CMSCoP11 (Convention on Migratory Species 11th conference of the parties), but also check out #SharksWithoutBorders and #Time4Action .

Additionally, representatives from variety of environmental non-profits will be attending the conference of the parties and/or tweeting updates. Here is an incomplete list:

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Giant manta rays protected by Convention on Migratory Species

Photo credit: David Shiffman (Georgia Aquarium)

A few weeks after they were listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, giant manta rays (Manta birostris) have received major international legal protection. The Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) just agreed to list giant mantas on Appendix 1 and II of CMS at their tri-annual meeting in Bergen, Norway.  An Appendix I listing requires that any of the 116 CMS Party nations who have giant manta rays in their waters to protect them along with their habitat, while an Appendix II listing encourages global and regional cooperation. This proposal was introduced by Ecuador, and was supported by the European Union, United States, Australia, Senegal, Madagascar, Mozambique, Chile, and Uruguay. This year’s host country, Norway, also supported the proposal and proposed discussing the reef manta (Manta alfredi) at the next CMS meeting in 2014.

“We are elated that the CMS Parties have embraced Ecuador’s proposal for protecting the magnificent and exceptionally vulnerable giant manta ray,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International. “CMS is an excellent vehicle for facilitating much needed national and international safeguards for this wide-ranging, globally threatened species and its key habitats.”

Giant mantas (the giant is appropriate as they can grow more than 7 meters across) are the target of directed fisheries for their gill rakers, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Their large size, predictable movement patterns, and relatively slow swimming speed makes them easy to catch, while many of their widely-distributed subpopulations number only a few hundred individuals. A listing under CMS appendices I and II is a welcome first step in the conservation of these gentle giants.

European Union officials propose stronger finning ban, sign UN migratory shark initiative

Two pieces of good news for European sharks were announced yesterday.  The European Union signed the UN Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) Memorandum of Understanding for sharks. This MOU was established last year to support the conservation of seven shark species which regularly migrate between national boundaries, a list which includes great whites and whale sharks.

Also, the European Commission introduced a proposal to close some loopholes in the existing European Union ban on shark finning at sea. If the proposed amendment passes, any European Union fishing vessel anywhere on Earth would need to land sharks with their fins attached. This amendment faces strong opposition from Spain, the third largest shark fishing nation in the world, but is strongly supported by scientists and conservationists.  The debate is expected to least several months, and we’ll be sure to let you know how you can help when it reaches its next phase.

“Today the EU has taken two major steps for sharks that demonstrate continued progress in European policy and offer new hope for safeguarding these vulnerable species on a global scale,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International, who is attending the CMS meeting. “We call on the EU Council and Parliament to promptly adopt the European Commission‟s finning ban proposal and encourage all fishing nations to fully engage in ensuring CMS shark conservation initiatives succeed.”