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With record support, rhino rays and world’s fastest sharks get new trade protections

  • Governments from around the world have voted to strictly regulate the international trade in two species of mako sharks, six giant guitarfish species, and 10 species of wedgefish — sharks and rays that have been declining rapidly in recent years.
  • All 18 species have now been formally approved for listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which mandates that countries track their exports of the listed sharks and rays, and show that fishing them will not threaten their long-term survival in the wild.
  • With majority of the global trade in sharks and rays and their products, especially shark fins and meat, being unregulated, conservation groups and researchers have welcomed this decision.
  • The three shark and ray proposals received the highest number of co-sponsors in the history of CITES convention with 61 countries supporting at least one of the three proposals.

In what conservation groups are calling a major win, governments from around the world have voted to regulate the international trade in two species of mako sharks, six giant guitarfish species, and 10 species of wedgefish.

All 18 species have now been formally approved for listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the treaty that regulates the global wildlife trade. While the listing doesn’t ban trade, it does mandate that countries track their exports of the listed sharks and rays, and show that fishing them will not threaten their long-term survival in the wild. With the majority of the global trade in sharks and rays and their products, especially fins and meat, being unregulated, conservation groups and researchers have welcomed this decision by the 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP18) to CITES, taking place in Geneva.

The three shark and ray proposals received the highest number of co-sponsors in CITES history, with 61 countries supporting at least one of the three proposals. While the mako proposal had 55 co-sponsors, there were 61 for wedgefish and 54 for guitarfish, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

“The co-sponsors included both developed and developing countries, from across the globe, further demonstrating that a wide range of member governments realize the need for CITES to regulate the global trade in shark fins, along with other products such as meat, to help prevent unsustainable and illegal trade from driving these ecologically critical predators toward extinction,” Luke Warwick, associate director for sharks and rays at the WCS, said in a statement.

Makos, also referred to as the “cheetahs of the ocean,” are the world’s fastest known sharks. They live primarily in the high seas, areas of the ocean that fall outside the jurisdiction of individual countries, and are prized for their meat and fins. They’re also sought after by recreational anglers. Both the shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus), and its cousin, the longfin mako (Isurus paucus), are overfished. And without any fishing quotas regulating their harvests until recently, the makos have been rapidly heading toward extinction. In a recent update, both mako species were uplisted to endangered on the IUCN Red List, from a previously lower conservation threat category.

The mako sharks’ listing on CITES Appendix II was passed by the support of 102 votes to 40. Among those voting against the proposal was the United States, which has considerable interest in mako fisheries, according to the National Geographic.

The giant guitarfishes and wedgefishes, sometimes referred to as rhino rays because of their elongated snouts, are also among the most threatened marine fish in the world. Fifteen of the 16 species of rhino rays are critically endangered, two of which are likely very close to extinction. While the proposal to list the giant guitarfishes was passed by 109 votes to 30, that of the wedgefishes was passed by 112 votes in support, with 30 against.

“CITES listing can help end unsustainable use of makos, wedgefishes, and giant guitarfishes by prompting improved trade data and much-needed limits on exploitation, while complementing other conservation commitments,” Sonja Fordham, president of Shark Advocates International, a project of The Ocean Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit, said in a statement. “As fishing is the main threat to sharks and rays, it’s essential that countries’ CITES representatives work with their national fisheries agency counterparts to ensure that the new obligations are carried out over the coming months.”

Shortfin mako shark. Image by Mark Conlin/SWFSC Large Pelagics Program via Wikimedia Commons (Public domain).