There has been a breakthrough in shark conservation at the World Species Conference now in Panama. After hours of debate, it was decided on Friday night to better protect 60 shark species internationally. Environmental organizations see this as a milestone.
“This is a huge success, because now industrial shark fishing is finally severely restricted worldwide,” says Sandra Altherr from the animal protection organization Pro Wildlife. “This vote can represent a turnaround and provide much-needed protection for those shark species that have long been overlooked,” said Barbara Slee of the International Fund for Animal Welfare in a press release from the animal welfare organization. The WWF described the decision as “historic for marine health”.
The 184 member states of the Washingtoner meet at the World Species Conservation Conference protection of speciesConvention, also known as Cites (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), which deals with trade restrictions on certain animal and plant species. The basic idea of the agreement is that trade in specimens or products of a species may only take place if it is not detrimental to the preservation of animals and plants. The more endangered a species, the stricter the trade restrictions.
The debate about the requiem sharks, which include the blacknose shark, the silky shark and the whale bay shark, was particularly difficult in Panama. Panama, the EU and 13 other member states had submitted an application – which was successful in the end – to place all 54 species in this family under protection. For 19 species, the justification was that they are threatened with extinction. For the remaining 35, the applicants cited the so-called look-alike criterion: Because the fins and meat of these animals cannot be distinguished commercially from strictly protected species, it also indirectly endangers species threatened with extinction when products from these sharks are used may be traded. With no means of control, it would be far too easy for illegal fishermen to simply re-declare meat and fins from endangered sharks.
The trade in shark meat and fins will be strictly controlled in the future
Fishing nations like Japan and Canada have been particularly concerned about protecting the blue shark, which is heavily hunted in those countries. But an application not to put the blue shark on the list of protected species failed significantly.
In Panama, on the other hand, it was decided by consensus to place all hammerhead shark species under protection in the future. Trade restrictions have been in place for the three largest species since 2013. But as a result, other, smaller species were increasingly hunted. These are now also under protection. “This decision was overdue,” says Sandra Altherr.
All shark species have been included in what is known as Appendix II of Cites. That doesn’t mean trading in them is banned entirely — that only applies to Appendix I species. But the trade in sharks or their meat and fins will be much more strictly controlled in the future. A permit is now required for almost every shipment of shark products. This also makes it easier for customs and law enforcement authorities to identify violations and ensure sustainable trade. So far, there have been few restrictions – only 25 percent of all shark species traded were internationally protected.
There is a large market for shark fins in particular. Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in many Asian countries. In traditional Chinese medicine, shark fins are used, among other things, as an appetite stimulant and as a sexual enhancer.
Because fishermen are often only interested in the fins of the sharks, the so-called finning practiced, which is forbidden in many countries, but is often hardly controlled. The fishermen cut off the fins of the sharks and then throw them back into the water alive to create storage space on the boats. The sharks, without fins, sink to the sea floor, unable to move, where they bleed to death or suffocate.