The Big Bite of CITES
Last week, the CITES Parties considered including four shark species in Appendix II of CITES: the oceanic whitetip shark, scalloped, great, and smooth hammerhead sharks, and the porbeagle. The Parties had a heated debate on the appropriateness of CITES to protect sharks but also the wasteful nature of shark finning. Senegal, for example, stated that, after the shark is finned, “the rest of the shark is thrown back to the sea – what a waste!” Senegal mentioned that the fin only accounts for two percent of the meat of the shark, and pointed out that the rest of the shark could be used to combat malnutrition throughout Africa. Egypt, a co-sponsor of the porbeagle proposal, said that “[i]f we continue business as usual, shark will not exist anymore.”
China and Namibia, two opponents to these proposals, maintained that fins are difficult to identify, particularly since fins from different species are shipped together. Pew Environment Group, however, noted that it has published an identification guide on shark fins to address this very issue. Opponents also claimed regional fisheries management organizations should manage fisheries, not CITES, and that Parties would have difficulties implementing a high seas permit regime.
Due to the clear divide in the room, the Chair called for a vote on all shark proposals with all of them unsurprisingly taken by secret ballot. To list a species, the proposal needs a two-thirds majority. The oceanic whitetip shark proposal passed by a slim three vote margin, the hammerhead proposal by four votes, and the porbeagle by five.
After each of the votes, at least twenty-four Parties joined the US in showing their dislike for secret ballots by announcing their vote for the record. Most Parties that announced their vote indicated that they voted “yes,” but Chile announced that it voted “no” for the porbeagle. These voting announcements reflect how many parties value transparency. The number of voting statements grew after each proposal to the point that the mood in the room grew jubilant. Observers endlessly clapped for the success of the listings and the growing number of voting statements.
Supporters of shark conservation left the room energized, but their work was not done. With such a slim margin, they needed to prepare for the final plenary session of the meeting, when Parties could potentially open debate and vote again to reject the proposals. After a couple of tense days of continued work, however, the Parties rejected motions to open debate on the oceanic whitetip shark and the hammerhead proposal.
At last, the tide has changed. With these votes, the CITES Parties said loud and clear that they are no longer willing to sit idly by while RFMOs do little to manage shark populations sustainably. They are now willing to use the permit regime of CITES to protect species from overutilization due to trade. These listings will not stop trade, but they will require Parties to determine that trade is not detrimental to the survival of the species. That may be difficult to do. As such, CITES should begin the process of limiting trade in shark fins and other shark products.
- Mandy Rude and Victoria Johnston