New Momentum For Shark Conservation Balances out Established Commercial Interests

Majority of Middle East countries play role in supporting species protection

This special Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) update is brought to you by the newly launched Tunisian Environment Reporting Network, who are currently attending the 40th meeting of the Parties as part of the Internews Europe and Earth Journalism Network grant, supported by World Environment Magazine.

Bangkok, 12 March 2013. At the sixteenth meeting of the Conference of Parties to CITES in Bangkok, Thailand, proposals from various governments to list five species of sharks under CITES were debated against a backdrop characterised by a new momentum, driven by emerging pro-shark conservation states from South America and West Africa acting as a long awaited foil to the established commercial fishing interests of certain countries – including Japan and China.

During the committee meeting, impassioned presentations set the tone for the discussions, as governments, conservationists and international and regional organisations took to the floor to pledge their case in support or indeed to oppose these landmark proposals conservationists have been battling for since 1994.

But this was no ordinary CITES day for sharks , as the five key species – almost always shunned at the meeting despite clear scientific evidence demonstrating the decline in shark and ray numbers all over the world – were finally accorded the necessary first steps at CITES to assure their survival and pave the way for sustainable fisheries management.

In a landmark move, the much anticipated debates on the proposals to list the oceanic whitetip sharks, porbeagle shark, scalloped hammerheads, freshwater sawfish and the manta ray under CITES were yesterday supported by more than the two-thirds majority of voting countries needed for adoption.

Cautious optimism

Although conservationists and shark conservation advocates are cautious not to hail it as a victory until the proposals are passed through plenary on Thursday, the key role of South American, West African and some Arab countries were praised for supporting and openly pledging for a global consensus on shark conservation matters.

Sonja Fordham of Shark Advocates International said at a press conference today “We are delighted by the outcome of today’s (11.03.13) votes for listing several species of sharks under CITES, and hopeful that these historic decisions will be upheld in plenary later this week.”

Arab Countries and Shark Conservation

A number of North African and Middle Eastern states – notably Yemen, Jordan and Qatar came out strongly in support of shark conservation and the CITES listings proposed. Egypt co sponsored the European Union’s porbeagle proposal – a key commercial species highly targeted by fisheries.

The Jordanian delegation expressed that it “hope(d) that the vote on sharks would go through” whilst the delegation from Yemen stated that they “looked forward to more cooperation between nations.

These historic decisions are not final until the Plenary on Thursday, and we are hopeful that the countries of the middle east will stand together, and agree not to re-open the discussion, and support the decision to adopt the proposals

Sue Lieberman, Director of International Policy, Pew Environment Group.

South American Countries Pave Way for Proposals

A record number of South American countries put forward proposals for shark listings on Appendix II, backed in many instances by numerous West African fishing nations plagued by the scourge of illegal and unreported fishing.

However, Japan, China, and a number of Caribbean countries including Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and several other members States opposed the shark proposals including the Oceanic White Tip proposal, arguing that regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) were best placed to tackle the decline of shark stocks – a recurring argument throughout the day long debate.

Indeed, a number of Caribbean states openly stated their position not to support shark conservation proposals citing the effect this would exert on local fishermen’s livelihoods.

In contrast – the seven West African member countries of the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (CSRP) tasked with working towards the harmonisation of long-term policies of member States in the preservation, conservation and exploitation of the fisheries resources came out in full support for the shark proposals during the committee debates.

Long known for their local fisheries and the livelihoods which depend on it, West African countries came out as major advocates of all the shark proposals at this CITES meeting, with a number of countries led by the Senegalese delegation highlighting the important role of the species as an apex predator and calling for worldwide protection and cooperation.

All shark and manta ray vote results were met with raucous applause that rippled through the packed committee room, as conservationists cautiously celebrated this historic moment. The decisions however can still be overturned by a vote on the final day of this meeting later this week.