Over 100 Species of Sharks and Rays Protected at CITES

November, 17, 2022

Panama City, Panama

Victory for Sharks in Panama at CITES-CoP19

History was made today providing international protection for sharks at the 19th Coalition of the Parties (CoP19) at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). 184 governments and conservation Parties convened in Panama where to consider applying major trade protections for plants and animals in the wildlife trade.

Shark Stewards joined the Shark Research Institute team advocating for sharks in at CoP19 in Panama working to increase fin trade restrictions during two weeks of meetings and plenary sessions. On Thursday, all shark species in the Requiem family (Carcharhinidae) sharks and hammerhead sharks (Sphyrnidae) were included for protection under CITES Appendix II. In the committee meeting reviewing Proposal 37 (Carcharhinidae) Japan unsuccessfully made a motion to remove 35 species from Appendix II. Also known as Requiem sharks, the family includes some of the most endangered sharks, including the river sharks, the grey reef shark and the sharptooth lemon shark. The family also includes the blue shark (Prionace glauca), whose inclusion was a point of contention raised by industrial shark fishing countries Spain, Indonesia and Peru. The amendment to leave blue sharks in the Proposal was also approved by a silent vote, and the unaltered Proposal went to a full vote, which passed with an overwhelming majority. An estimated 20 million blue sharks are killed for their fins for the Asian market.

All 19 lead species of the Requiem sharks in Proposal 37 meet the criteria for Appendix II with widespread declines exceeding 70% with regional extinctions. The Requiem shark family dominates the shark fin trade with 46% of the total family documented in the Hong Kong trade. The other 35 non-lead species were included due to the resemblance of their fins in the shark fin trade and the difficulty enforcement officers face identifying the species from the fins or meat once in the trade.

Panama was sponsor to both shark Proposals and West African nations, most notably Senegal, were leaders championing the listing of these sharks.

With the addition of the rays, 97 vulnerable and endangered species of sharks and rays were included for addition to Appendix II, including several critically endangered species impacted by overfishing, loss of habitat and the wildlife trade. Fins and meat from many species of sharks in the hammerhead and requiem shark family are frequently mislabeled or misidentified as look-alike species, mixed in the shark fin trade with more threatened or endangered species.

Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled. It also includes so-called “look-alike species”, i.e. species whose specimens in trade look like those of species listed for conservation reasons (see Article II, paragraph 2 of the Convention).

Proposal 38 which includes the entire family of hammerhead sharks (Sphyrnidae) passed without opposition. Led by concern for the critically endangered bonnethead shark, a small species that has experienced a global population decline of 50-79% over the past 36 years, the remaining 6 of 9 species in the family were listed under Appendix II. Considered look-alike species, the fins of the unlisted species of hammerhead shark are in the international shark fin trade, and officers may not be able to distinguish the fins from the already listed species of hammerhead sharks and considered by the FAO to be challenging.

At CoP 12 in 2003, (three species of hammerhead sharks (scalloped, great and smooth hammerhead sharks ) were listed in CITES under Appendix II. Hammerhead sharks are one of the most distinctive sharks, are targeted in fisheries and the shark fin trade, killed by illegal fishing, and fisheries bycatch throughout the world. Unlike many other species of sharks, hammerheads aggregate in large numbers, which makes them vulnerable to fishing efforts. The fins from hammerhead sharks are among the most coveted for shark fin soup.

Also targeted in fisheries for food and caught as bycatch in the purse seine and longline fisheries, hammerhead populations have declined more than 90% across the Atlantic and as high as 99% in the Mediterranean.

Many of the hammerhead species are endangered and are considered look-alike species, meaning they are categorized as a species so similar that the parts (in this case fins) are easily confused with others which makes detection and enforcement difficult. Listing these species will help regulators enforce and countries better manage trade and fishing of endangered and threatened sharks and rays.

Besides the hammerhead sharks and Requiem sharks the family of small guitarfish consisting of 37 members in the Rhinobatidae (6 species are critically endangered) were also approved due to the large representation of endangered species in the international trade.

Leading up to CoP19, 46 species of sharks are listed under CITES, including whale sharks, the great white shark and manta rays. Around 1200 living species of Elamobranches (sharks, skates and rays) are described, and 37% of those shark species are now threatened with extinction, the 2nd highest among vertebrates. Sharks have suffered wide scale population declines in the last 50 years due to fishing pressure and high levels of international trade. The regulation of trade is required to ensure that the take of wild specimens is not reducing the wild population to the point that survival might be threatened.

It is predicted that controlling trade of these species will reduce the shark fin trade by potentially more than 50% and might save critically endangered species of sharks and rays.