In seven months, more than 170 countries will start enforcing trade protections to help save several shark species from extinction. Next week, preparation in the Pacific region begins in earnest.
On Feb. 11 and 12, government representatives from 11 countries will gather in Nadi, Fiji, to discuss the implementation of international shark protections approved under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES. The workshop is hosted by the Fijian government, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Coral Reef Alliance.
Fisheries, environment, and customs officials from Australia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, New Zealand, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu have confirmed their attendance. Intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations from throughout the Pacific have also been invited.
“It’s exciting to see so many countries across the Pacific working to save some of the most vulnerable shark species,” said Imogen Zethoven, director of global shark conservation for Pew. “These are the most significant marine protections in the 40-year history of CITES. They reflect the global consensus that people need healthy oceans, and healthy oceans need sharks.”
Last March, CITES member countries granted porbeagle, oceanic whitetip, and three species of hammerhead sharks what is known as Appendix II designation. Species included on Appendix II are not yet threatened with extinction but could go in that direction if populations decline further and if trade continues at an unsustainable rate. Appendix II still allows international trade, but only if it is regulated. This action can give depleted species a chance to recover by allowing only sustainable and legal trade through a rigorous permitting system.
The workshop is being conducted by marine biologists, conservationists, and trade experts from around the world. Demian Chapman, an assistant professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and assistant science director of the university’s Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, will demonstrate how to identify the fins of protected sharks. Stan Shea, an official with the ocean conservation organization BLOOM, will discuss the shark trade in Hong Kong.
Through sessions such as this, Pew is working to help government officials develop the practical expertise needed to enforce CITES protections. Another workshop is being planned in Southeast Asia later this year.
“The CITES vote in March last year was historic, but in September, the real work begins,” said Nannette Malsol of Palau’s Bureau of Oceanic Fishery Management. “We’re grateful that the government of Fiji, Pew, and the Coral Reef Alliance are holding this workshop to help us implement these vital shark protections.”
Half of all observed shark and ray species are predicted to be threatened or near threatened with extinction. Humans kill an estimated 100 million sharks every year—more than 11,000 an hour. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists scalloped hammerheads as endangered, along with giant pandas and blue whales. Other CITES-protected shark species are classified as vulnerable, on par with lions, cheetahs, and polar bears.
Pew has worked for five years with governments in the Pacific at the domestic, regional, and international levels to protect sharks from overfishing. (Pew Charitable Trusts)