The much anticipated series of debates on the proposals to list under CITES five endangered species of sharks were today supported by more than the two-thirds majority of voting countries needed for adoption.
At the sixteenth meeting of the Conference of Parties to CITES, proposals from various governments to list oceanic whitetip sharks, porbeagles, hammerheads, manta rays, and freshwater sawfish under CITES were put forward in order to limit international trade to sustainable levels.
Impassioned debates took root, as government delegations, non-governmental ngos and international organisations took to the floor to pledge their case for or against the proposals.
But this was no ordinary CITES day for sharks , as the five key species – almost always shunned for at CITES despite clear scientific evidence demonstrating the decline in shark and ray numbers all over the world coupled with the fact that conservationist have been trying to get these species listed on CITES since 1994 - were finally accorded the necessary steps towards assuring their survival.
A number of South American countries put forward proposals for shark listings on Appendix 2, backed in many instances by numerous West African nations plagued by the scourge of illegal and unreported fishing.
Discussions on the Oceanic white tip shark started off with Colombia introducing its proposal to regulate trade in oceanic whitetip shark, followed immediately by Brasil and the United States of America which co-sponsored the proposal and insisted in the annotation to delay the entry into force of the CITES listing until September 2014.
However, Japan, China, San Vincent and the Grenadines and several members States opposed 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 fisherman livelihoods. The Grenadines even went as far as to present a link between listing the Oceanic white tip on appendix 2 and the affects this would have on the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals.
In contrast – West African countries, long known for their local fisheries and the livelihoods which depend on it, came out in support of the shark proposale, with a number of countries led by the Senegalese delegation highlighting the important role of the species and calling for worldwide protection and cooperation.
In terms of the Arab countries – Egypt co sponsored the porbeagle proposal and Qatar came out in support for all the shark proposals put forward. Morocco expressed concerns over the proposal to list the Hammerhead shark as appendix 2.
All shark vote results were met with raucous applause that rippled through the plenary room, as conservationists celebrated this historic moment.
The decisions however can still be overturned by a vote on the final day of this meeting later this week.
“We are delighted by the outcome of today’s votes for listing several species of sharks under CITES, and hopeful that these historic decisions will be upheld in plenary later this week,” as said Sonja Fordham of Shark Advocates International.
“These highly traded, threatened shark species urgently need protection from the unsustainable trade that jeopardizes populations, ecosystems, livelihoods, and ecotourism.
This special Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) update is brought to you by the Tunisian Environment Reporting Network, who are attending the 40th meeting of the Parties as part of the Internews Europe and Earth Journalism Network grant, supported by World Environment Magazine.