Major win for sharks and rays at CITES COP19


The signatory countries (parties) in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) confirmed in plenary Friday their support for listing the 19 requiem sharks and their 35 look alike species, along with the uncontested move to list all small hammerhead sharks, proposed guitarfishes and freshwater stingrays in the CITES Appendix II. Having surmounted this final hurdle, Parties must begin to monitor and regulate the international trade in species in these groups beginning in 12 months, a lag time adopted to work out oversight implementation details. This Herculean effort that garnered global support was admirably spearheaded for requiem sharks by Panama, hosts of the CITES COP.

A large loophole in CITES and trade that existed for sharks meant that many listed species could be easily passed off as a similar, unregulated species. That loophole has now been closed. Species such as lemon sharks, night sharks, bull sharks and other requiem sharks that look so similar when processed as meat and fins and traded internationally, will finally benefit from oversight and regulation of what is now widely considered to be unsustainable trade. It’s very important to highlight that CITES focuses entirely on the International Trade of listed species, not domestic trade. In summary, a CITES Appendix II listing does not prohibit trade

But now expanded work on the ground starts. Parties will need to rapidly expand their implementation of CITES requirements. They will need to continue or start to develop non-detriment findings for the listed species to ensure that the take of animals for international trade is sustainable. This process, once cumbersome, has been greatly simplified by the creation of the eNDF digital framework, making regular updating easier when new information on populations is acquired. Officials will require more training to identify inbound and outbound shark and ray products and work with locally developed wildlife forensic teams to test samples genetically and ascertain if listed, and then shipped according to CITES provisions and with associated permits. 

What role does MarAlliance have in the CITES implementation process, you might ask? Our community-based scientific assessments of small-scale fisheries and fisheries-independent shark and ray studies position us well to derive population and trade information on newly listed species. The assessments will continue to help build feedback bridges between coastal fishing communities, authorities, and CITES. Fishers will better understand and hopefully support CITES implementation, and our collaborative work will help to determine if CITES measures are successful in reversing trade-induced declines in populations of listed species.

So at this particularly thankful period of the year, we are grateful for this hoped-for outcome, for the Panamanian Government as leaders of these listings and for enabling our attendance at the CITES COP. We are thankful to the Wildlife Conservation Network for supporting our participation and to a fantastic suite of foundational and individual funders who are supporting the on the ground population assessments for listed species and the concerted efforts to reverse the declines in so many shark populations. Thank you for being such amazing allies. 

As we move towards the end of our year and look to a jam-packed 2023, we also reach out to ask you to kindly support expanding and strengthening our community researcher networks in Belize, Honduras, and Panama. Your tax-deductible donation will support our locally based committed and passionate teams to rewild our seas.



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