What? We don’t know everything about sharks?! Le gasp!
This fact is often overlooked and/or unknown by the public. Although the species as a whole is popular in the media (mostly when a shark attacks, but even those focus on charismatic guys like the great white, instead of the less-popular ones like the broadnose sevengill shark), not much is known about them. This is anything from population dynamics, any dietary shifts, reproduction methods, etc.
So why does this matter?
If you’ve ever had one of my Sarasota Fins talks, I highlight that an estimated 100 million sharks are killed annually (almost 12,000 an hour). This is just an estimate—one that “Dark Room” in the previous post challenged with his firsthand encounters of shark fishing in multiple countries worldwide.
Sharks and their protection have been discussed at CITES for 20 years. CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement to help prevent species from becoming endangered or extinct because of international trade.
Re-read the italics—CITES only applies to international trade.
Although sharks have been a hot topic for 20 years, it took 10 just to get a species listed! There was mixed feelings about adding sharks to CITES: Japan tried to block white shark, basking shark and whale shark listings, even going as far as to not list them in Appendix I while the Arab nations voted to protect sharks after a "shark conservation in Arabia" workshop.
So what is Appendix I? Appendix I lists species that are facing extinction, and CITES prohibits international trade amongst countries. (Learn more about appendices here)
Sharks are CITES Appendix II listed; an endangered animal that may become threatened with extinction if trade is not monitored and controlled. This does NOT mean a ban or catch/sale, unlike Appendix I. (Learn more here) However, having an animal listed as Appendix II means the animal is in bad shape in terms of conservation.
CITES Appendix II listed species can only be traded if scientists say "such export won't be detrimental to the species." This is called a CITES Non-Detriment finding (NDF). (Learn more) As you can see through the website, a CITES non-detriment finding contains numerous technical details that some developing countries could not have access to.
For sharks, an Appendix II listing was ideal: it promotes sustainable fishing, but also requires proof of sustainability. Oceanic whitetip, porbeagle and hammerhead CITES protections in 2013 were historic, as they were the first economically valuable marine fish to have a CITES listing. However, CITES does not always get followed. In China, the overwhelming demand for shark fins has put economic pressure on fishermen to fish for sharks, even while protected. In the United States, reporting on shark fishing/bycatch is limited, and many shark fishing nations only report their catch as “shark.” In order to protect sharks, scientists need species-specific data to provide better assessments and frameworks for conservation.
International laws (e.g. CITES, Convention of Migratory Species, UN FAO, etc.) are not always followed or enforced. A CITES listing does not guarantee the protection of a species—it needs implementation, education and enforcement. That is why CITES has started to offer shark workshops to customs officers (around 500 officers in 54 countries), in helping aid the identification of CITES shark fins.
Interested in learning? Check out the site here.
Below is a quick overview of their guide (photo credit)--
All information on CITES sharks/workshops will be available on this website: http://www.cites.org/eng/prog/shark/
Sarasota Fins’ purpose is to help educate the public about sharks, aiming to relay the latest shark information. With your help, we can change the public image of sharks to that of a positive one, and help conserve this spectacular animal!