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CITES: Crucial for conserving sharks and rays

NEW YORK (March 6, 2013)Government delegates to the 16th meeting of the 178 member States of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) convening in Bangkok, Thailand this week can help conserve some of the world's most threatened sharks and raysancient, cartilaginous fish species that are under severe pressure globally from over-fishing by agreeing to extend CITES measures to these species. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, CITES is crucial for addressing the conservation needs and sustainable use of sharks and rays.

The United States, Brazil, Ecuador, and more than 30 other countries have proposed to list several shark and ray species under CITES, which will help control the largely unregulated international trade in these species and their products. Many shark and ray species are threatened with extinction as a result of directed fishing and unintentional fisheries "bycatch," much of which is driven by the high demand for their fins, meat, gill rakers, used in shark fin soup and other dishes.

"We commend the leadership of the United States and other government sponsors in requesting these essential measures to control and monitor international trade in these shark and ray species, and we implore other governments to vote in their favor," said Dr. Cristin Samper, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society. "These taxa have suffered alarming declines from unregulated or insufficiently regulated fisheries and are in high demand for international commercial markets. There is a desperate need for trade controls to manage that demand and its impact on these vulnerable fishes."

Proposed for listing on CITES Appendix II, which provides for regulation of international trade, are the oceanic whitetip shark, porbeagle shark, three species of hammerhead shark, and two species of manta ray. Another species, the freshwater sawfish, is proposed for uplisting from Appendix II to Appendix I, which prohibits commercial international trade completely.

The proposals under consideration will significantly increase the number of sharks and rays that are regulated under CITES: currently, only a few of shark and ray speciesthe whale shark, basking shark, great white shark, and seven sawfishesare listed. In order to be adopted, the proposals will need approval from two-thirds of the governments voting.

"CITES listings for these species would help put controls on an international trade that threatens many shark species and the livelihoods that depend on them," said Dr. Elizabeth Bennett, Vice President of WCS's Species Program and leader of the WCS CITES delegation.

Unlike many bony fish species, most cartilaginous fishes are long-lived, late-to-mature, and produce few young, making them vulnerable to over-fishing and their populations slow to recover once depleted.

"Demand for shark finsthe prime ingredient in shark fin soup and gill rakers from manta rays is driving legal and illegal shark and ray fishing beyond what is sustainable, with estimates of tens of millions of animals killed annually to supply these trades, "said Dr. Rachel Graham, Director of WCS's Gulf and Caribbean Sharks and Rays Program. "Listing under CITES will provide a much-needed framework to monitor and regulate these heavily traded and highly sought-after species."

WCS is committed to saving sharks and rays as part of a global commitment to promote recovery of depleted and threatened populations of marine species, halt the decline of fragile marine ecosystems, and improve the livelihoods and resilience of coastal communities throughout the world's oceans.

WCS invests in a diverse array of long-term, seascape-scale conservation strategies across the waters of 20 countries and all five oceans to reverse the decline of marine ecosystems, restore populations of threatened marine species and improve coastal fisheries and livelihoods. We inspire millions to take action for the oceans through the New York Aquarium and all our parks in New York City. To achieve our long-term conservation goals, WCS marine conservationists work with local and national governments, as well as a range of local partners to improve management of coastal fisheries, mitigate key threats to marine species, expand effective marine protected areas, enhance ocean industry sustainability, and increase resilience to climate change.

Collectively, these efforts aim to build broader and deeper public understanding, advance scientific knowledge, and strengthen political commitment to our oceans and the biodiversity and livelihoods they support.


Contact: Stephen Sautner
Wildlife Conservation Society

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