Report by Michael AW
Together with Marie Levine of Sharks Research Institute, I was at the 16th meeting of the Conference of Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok, Thailand.
Crusaders described the vote for mantas and sharks into Appendix II as a coming of age for the 40-year-old convention. Whilst these were good news for these apex animals of the ocean, the celebration was short-lived. The margins above the minimum threshold of a two-third majority for the Oceanic Whitetip, Hammerhead and Porbeagle sharks, were small. An attempt was thus made to re-open the debate on sharks after the conference voted in favour of regulating international trade in these three endangered species. If countries opposing the shark ban (led by China and Japan), can muster a third of the conference to re-open the debate, they would need only to convince four countries to change their minds to block the decision on oceanic whitetips. Delegates at the Cites conference went through a tense final session as some countries sought to overturn decisions taken during the two-week gathering.
“I’m very concerned that there may be countries that were present at the original vote who may not be in attendance or who may change their minds,” Dr Susan Lieberman from Pew Charitable Trusts told BBC New. “If they do, it would be tragic for the species and tragic for Cites,” she added. There also were confirmed reports that some African delegations were being wined and dined by the Japan – the opponents of the ban on the shark trade.
Finally, after two extremely tense, nail-biting, hair-pulling mornings, all shark and manta species survived the attempt by economic giants China, Japan and India to re-open their listing in Appendix II. Japan and Grenada attempted to re-open debate on the oceanic whitetip and hammerhead shark proposals respectively, but both failed to gain the required 1/3 majority to do so, before the proposals for the Porbeagle shark, freshwater sawfish and manta rays were adopted without objection. It was a historic day at the 16th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as several species survived the notoriously dangerous plenary session that could have seen protections voted on by parties over the last week, overturned.
The inclusion of these species in the CITES appendices marks the first time that shark and manta ray species with high commercial value have been granted such protections in the 40-year history of the Convention. Humane Society International's Senior Program Manager Alexia Wellbelove, released the following statement praising the final decision at CITES to list the oceanic whitetip shark, the porbeagle shark, three species of hammerhead sharks, and two species of manta rays (great and reef), on Appendix II.
"The adoption of all shark and manta ray proposals clearly demonstrates that CITES parties recognise the perils facing these species from unsustainable and inhumane trade in their fins, gills and meat. A majority of countries, including many developing coastal communities, have shown a willingness to take necessary action to protect these vulnerable marine animals. This marks a new beginning for CITES to play an increased role in regulating international trade in commercially valuable and overexploited marine species."
Ms Wellbelove also praised the listing of the freshwater sawfish, which was proposed by Australia, on Appendix I of CITES. "The adoption of this proposal will now mean that international trade in this critically endangered species is banned, not a moment too soon. We welcome this important decision taken by consensus by CITES parties.". So to speak, CITES 2013 was all good news for the ocean!