March 25, 2010

Another Chance For Sharks, Elephants at CITES?

Thursday, the last day of the UN wildlife meeting in Doha, could be the turnaround day for the protection of elephants and two species of sharks that were earlier disregarded by delegates at the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The final plenary session of CITES validates decisions made over the previous 12 days, but a motion to reopen the debate supported by a third of the delegates could lead to a new vote, giving hope for conservationists.

The United States is trying for a second chance to get Appendix II status for the unique scalloped hammerhead shark, which was denied earlier in the week.

Appendix II requires that governments monitor and report all exports, and to demonstrate that fishing is carried out in a sustainable manner.

Once abundant, the hammerhead has been overfished heavily for a high demand for their fins for sharkfin soup, a delicacy in many Chinese cultures around the world.

As many as 2.3 million sharks are taken from the seas every year, and most are then tossed back to die after their fins have been removed by fishermen.

Tokyo has strongly opposed all efforts in Doha to impose trade restrictions on marine species, and led the successful campaign to vote down the proposed Appendix I listing on cross-border trade of Atlantic bluefin tuna.

The porbeagle shark, fished for its meat, is listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as "critically endangered" in the Mediterranean and Atlantic, and as "vulnerable" worldwide. Japan will likely seek for reversal of a decision made to extend the Appendix II status of the porbeagle.

Japan acknowledges that many marine species are in decline, but argues that regional governmental fisheries are the best tool for managing stocks, not CITES.

Experts believe Zambia will try to downgrade the protection status of its elephants from Appendix I to the less restrictive Appendix II. Its first attempt was rejected in a secret ballot (55 to 36), several votes shy of a two-thirds majority needed to pass.

Shark specialist at the Pew Environment Group in Washington D.C., said that Japan is trying hard to line up votes in its favor. Conservationists are lobbying as well, trying to make sure certain delegations remain until the very end of the session to cast their votes.


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