Expanding the “Jaws” of CITES

by Kristen Boon

States parties to the Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) voted to list five new commercially valuable shark species under Appendix II last week, notwithstanding an attempt to reopen the discussion in the final plenary by some dissenters. The international trade in oceanic whitetip (Carcharhinus longimanus), scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrma lewini), great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran), smooth hammerhead shark (Sphyrna zigaena) and the porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus) will now be restricted.  These species have been harvested in huge numbers for their valuable fins and/or meat.   On the day of the vote, Susan Lieberman of the PEW Environmental Trust said “today was the most significant day for the ocean in the 40-year history of CITES.”  This CITES press release gives more details on the measures.

Under CITES, species listed under Appendix II are those “that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled… International trade in specimens of Appendix-II species may be authorized by the granting of an export permit or re-export certificate.  Permits or certificates should only be granted if the relevant authorities are satisfied that certain conditions are met, above all that trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild.”

A similar attempt was made to list Bluefin Tuna on Appendix II in 2010, but this failed to garner enough votes.  I blogged about it here, and described it as an attempt at regime shifting (away from ICCAT, the RFMO with jurisdiction over tunas, and towards CITES).

The CITES listing is only one piece of good news for sharks however.  On the same day, a separate UN Agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization, released a report underscoring the critical condition of other shark populations in the Mediterranean and Black Sea.

In addition to sharks, a number of tropical timber species were added onto CITES Appendices, which will be enforced by a number of sophisticated new timber tracking technologies.

An attempt to list Polar Bears was defeated.    The discussion (which pitted Canada, which opposed the listing as it exports some polar bear parts, against the United States) was noteworthy because there was a difference of opinion with regards to the cause of the threat – climate change or hunting practices.

As I noted in my blog about tunas, there are few restraints on high seas fishing due to the principle of open access.  It has thus been difficult to create regimes that can effectively regulate the fishing of migratory species.  These additions to the CITES Appendices thus mark both an important expansion in the scope of CITES and an attempt to protect a broadening range of scarce natural resources that are subject to commercial exploitation.


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