IUCN Congress: More Rules and Protection Needed For Sharks And Rays Worldwide

April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

At the IUCN’s World Conservation Congress in Jeju, Korea, this week, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and over 35 other government agencies and NGO (non-governmental organizations) partners urged the world’s governments to take urgent steps to save sharks and rays from the relentless pressure of overfishing for international trade.

The WCS-led consortium is specifically advocating for the listing of sharks and rays under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

CITES is an international agreement between 176 governments that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. The CITES organization maintains a database of species with protected status or those threatened with extinction.

“Sharks and rays have traveled the Earth for more than 400 million years,” said Dr. Cristián Samper, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society and keynote speaker at the Jeju congress. “Yet, in only recent decades, many of these species have become threatened from overfishing and, in some instances, have disappeared entirely from major portions of their range. The potential loss of one of only two groups of the world’s living fishes is a crisis the world community must take decisive action to address. We are calling for governments around the world to vigorously support CITES international trade regulations and strengthen fisheries management and protection measures for shark and ray species. We cannot continue to allow the destruction of these wonders of evolution.”

The number of sharks and rays that are afforded protection under CITES could triple if the WCS and partners efforts are successful. Currently, only a handful of species are listed; the whale shark, basking shark, great white shark, and sawfishes.

Numerous other species are considered to qualify for CITES listing, including several that have been proposed before. Priority species for listing in March 2013 include the porbeagle shark, oceanic whitetip shark, scalloped hammerhead shark, giant manta ray, reef manta ray and devil rays.

“The international trade in shark and ray products, including fins, meat, and other body parts, is driving shark and ray fisheries around the world, and most of these are unmanaged or only minimally managed,” said Dr. John Robinson, WCS’s Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science. “Lack of controls on fisheries and international trade puts species at risk but also jeopardizes sustainable fisheries, ecosystems, and food security. A commitment by the international community is crucial. We ask all concerned to join us in ensuring the right actions are taken on behalf of sharks and rays at CITES in March 2013.”

Held every four years, the IUCN Congress is the world’s largest conservation event. It aims to improve how we as a world manage our natural environment for human, social and economic development.

To enlist support for the CITES listings, WCS and others have sponsored several motions calling for a range of measures to improve fisheries management and conserve sharks and rays. These cartilaginous fishes are long-lived, late-to-mature and produce few young, which makes them particularly vulnerable to overfishing and slow to recover once depleted. WCS also co-sponsored a motion to limit catches of mako sharks and hammerhead sharks. A third motion calls for review of all shark and ray species on IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species for possible CITES regulations.

“We estimate that many millions of sharks are killed annually through both legal and illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing for the trade in fins, the prime ingredient in shark fin soup,” said Dr. Rachel Graham, director of WCS’s Gulf and Caribbean Sharks and Rays Program. “The high price for fins has caused the global shark fishery to expand far beyond what is sustainable. The need for international regulation and enforcement has never been greater.”

WCS is committed to saving sharks 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 and species-focused conservation strategies across the waters of 20 countries and all five oceans. To achieve their long-term conservation goals, WCS marine conservationists work with local and national governments, as well as an array of partners to improve management of coastal fisheries, mitigate key threats to marine species, expand effective marine protected areas, enhance ocean industry sustainability and help people and wildlife adapt to climate change.