saving the sharks

Sharks are in trouble. About 100 million are killed in commercial fisheries each year, and the global trade in their fins and meat is unsustainable. These ancient and vulnerable animals cannot withstand this level of pressure; their populations have plummeted around the world.

Given the critically important role that sharks play in maintaining the health of marine ecosystems, these mortality rates have significant implications for ocean health worldwide.
But there is promising news. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), long considered one of the best tools to ensure that global trade does not threaten the survival of species, has enacted trade regulations for five commercially valuable shark species and all manta rays.

Protection of these species has become a critical part of the Convention’s work. CITES now governs the trade in shark and ray products—such as meat, oil, and gill plates—of the listed species. Still, the fin trade remains the principle driver of shark declines, and that area is where the CITES listings are having the most significant impact.

Around the world, from China to Chile, countries are introducing measures to protect the newly listed species from prohibiting their landing or trade to setting scientifically based sustainable catch limits—that will help halt declines and allow populations to recover. As nations implement these CITES trade controls, the world is beginning to better understand the threats facing all sharks and the need for strong protections to ensure that they maintain their key roles in marine ecosystems.
- Joshua S Reichert (Head of environment work at PEW Charitable Trusts


2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The number of CITES Parties has grown from fewer than 20 in 1975 to nearuniversalmembership of 181 Parties in 2015, soon to be 182. Today there are more than 35,000 species coming under CITES regulatory controls, and over 15 million trade transactions have been recorded in the CITES trade database. CITES remains as relevant today as it was in 1975.

In 1975 no shark or ray species were listed under CITES. Today, CITES has eight species of sharks and all manta rays under CITES trade controls, as well as all sawfishes. These species include hammerhead, oceanic whitetip, and porbeagle sharks, along with all manta rays, which were listed at the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties held in Bangkok in 2013.

Sharks may seem to constitute a small fraction of the number of species of wild animals and plants listed under CITES; however, these recent additions set new challenges and opportunities for parties in ensuring that trade in commercially exploited aquatic species is legal, sustainable, and traceable, even for highly traded fisheries commodities.

The 181 Parties to CITES are making concerted efforts to effectively implement these recent CITES listings of sharks and manta rays, and this has been complemented by a global collective effort to support implementation that is unprecedented in the 40-year history of the Convention. This has included the European Union contributing 1.2 million euros through the CITES Secretariat to assist developing countries implement the new CITES listings of sharks and manta rays during the 2013-2016 period.

The CITES Secretariat works in close cooperation with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization as well as with the regional fisheries management organizations and regional fisheries bodies, to ensure that CITES measures are complementary to their ongoing efforts, as well as to the sustainable fisheries management effort in general.

Other stakeholders, including government agencies, international organizations, academia, foundations and philanthropists, and non-governmental organizations, including The Pew Charitable Trusts, are all stepping up their own efforts in helping to develop various tools, resources, and expertise to assist developing countries manage trade in shark products.

As we look into the future, and perhaps into the next 40 years of the operation of CITES, we see the need for an ongoing and further enhanced global cooperative effort that deepens the engagement with everyone involved, from government decision-makers to local fisher communities. Through these collective efforts, these marine species can be better managed, with any trade being legal and sustainable, thereby ensuring the survival of these magnificent animals in the wild.John E Scanlon (Secretary General - CITES)