(DOHA)—Delegates attending the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) today rejected a Proposal submitted by Palau and the United States to adopt landmark protection for three hammerhead shark species globally threatened by the shark fin trade.
“Shark species worldwide are in a tailspin due to overharvesting for the fin trade,” said Linda Paul, International Director of Earthtrust’s Endangered Species Program, a member organization of the Species Survival Network (SSN). “CITES is one of the few tools available to bring the global trade in shark fins and parts under appropriate control, and stop the rapid slide toward extinction we’re seeing today. Refusing to give CITES protection to the scalloped hammerhead shark and its look-alike cousins is a step backward that may prevent the recovery of these threatened species.”
In a robust debate, and despite a large overall majority, proponents failed to achieve the 2/3 vote needed to secure listing on Appendix II. Spain on behalf of the EU, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Qatar spoke in favour while Cuba, China, Singapore and Indonesia spoke against. Seventy five countries voted in favour but 45 Parties voted against with 14 abstentions.
The Proposal made a convincing case that the scalloped hammerhead is likely to become threatened with extinction unless the trade in its fins, parts and derivatives is monitored and regulated. For example, the northwest Atlantic population of the scalloped hammerhead has declined by 89% over 15 years and fins of hammerheads have an average auction price of $125 per kilo. About 1.3 to 2.7 million scalloped and smooth hammerheads are taken annually for the shark fin trade.
Contrary to the misinformation being spread by fin traders, an Appendix II listing will not ban the trade in shark fins and parts. “In Mexico 90% of all shark products are used in the domestic markets; only 10% of the products, mainly fins and meat, are exported,” said Juan Carlos Cantu, from Defenders of Wildlife, also a member of the Species Survival Network. “An Appendix II listing will have no impact on the 90% of products consumed in Mexico, and of the 10% that is exported only the portion that belongs to the species listed in Appendix II would be regulated, but not banned.”
The practice of cutting off the fins of sharks to supply the growing demand for shark fin soup took off in the early 1990s with the increasing wealth in South China. “Up to 100 million sharks are killed around the globe each year for their fins only,” said Rebecca Regnery, Deputy Director Wildlife for the Human Society International. “After the fins are removed the rest of the shark is thrown overboard. Many cultures find this waste deplorable.”
Shark fins, one of the most valuable “food” items in the world, is regarded as a prestigious ingredient in shark fin soup consumed mainly in East and Southeast Asia. Customers may pay up to $100 a bowl. However, few realize that “shark fin soup” is just chicken broth with some tasteless cartilaginous fin rays added to achieve a crunchy, jelly-like texture.
The illegal and unreported poaching of sharks for the fin trade is believed to far surpass the legal trade. The fishing grounds of virtually every coastal State have been plundered to feed the international demand for shark fins. Although some poachers have been caught and their vessels and catch confiscated, many more continue to decimate coastal shark populations with impunity.
Listing look-alike species is an important enforcement tool since the fins of all three hammerhead species are virtually identical and customs officials have a hard time determining which species are in trade when large quantities of fins arrive all mixed together at inspection stations. “Finning also prevents the collection of species-specific data, making it very difficult for management authorities to estimate population sizes, manage stocks and monitor the impact of trade on individual species of sharks,” said Paul. “While shark stocks may be managed by regional fisheries management organizations, the trade in fins is not.”
“We hope that at the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, the plight of these species will be brought forward once more and that they will achieve the listing they deserve and need. I also hope that the Parties will, in future, pass a resolution prohibiting the international trade in all shark fins unless they are naturally attached to a shark,” concluded Paul. “This will prevent many more shark species being proposed for listing on the CITES appendices because their existence is threatened by the trade in fins.”