Historic day for international shark conservation

An unprecedented number of sharks, including two species of hammerheads, the entire genus of thresher sharks, and the silky shark species, were officially incorporated into Appendix II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) on the 9th November during its 11th Meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) in Quito, Ecuador.

The favourable vote by CMS’ 120 member parties to list these six species of sharks in its Appendix II is the culmination of an eight month collaborative effort between an international group of NGOs, the CMS Secretariat, the European Union, and the Costa Rican, Ecuadorian, and Egyptian governments.

Joanna Alfaro-Shigueto and Randall Arauz attend CMS COP11
Joanna Alfaro-Shigueto and Randall Arauz attend CMS COP11

The decision was supported by marine conservationists including 2004 Whitley Award winner, Randall Arauz of PRETOMA, and 2012 winner, Joanna Alfaro-Shigueto of Prodelphinus, who came together to hold a series of meetings with government agencies to promote the inclusion of these species in Appendix II of the CMS at the COP.

The listing builds on the political momentum begun through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to stop the dramatic population decline of these marine creatures. Faced with growing international trade and domestic exploitation concerns, CMS will now play a role in initiating and encouraging greater collaboration among its member countries toward better conservation and management of these sharks.

Randall and Joanna presenting at meetings to government officials to support the inclusion of Hammerheads, Silky and Thresher sharks in Appendix II of the CMS
Randall and Joanna presenting at meetings to government officials to support the inclusion of hammerheads, silky and thresher sharks in Appendix II of the CMS

Sharks are in decline due to threats from unsustainable fishing practices and the growing shark fin industry fuelled by the increasing popularity of shark fin soup in China. The rising demand for the dish has led to a dramatic fall in shark numbers with between 10-100 million sharks being caught each year by fleets who remove their fins before throwing them back to sea. Ensuring key shark breeding and feeding areas are protected is also a priority for this highly migratory species.

To successfully conserve them, governments need to implement regional and global conservation strategies that address these threats. “The work has only just begun”, says Randall Arauz. “If we don’t act now, it will be impossible to restore populations of these threatened species, which are vital for the function of the marine ecosystem, and upon which humanity depends.”

Key facts:

  • According to an alarming analysis by the IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG) published in January 2014, an estimated quarter of the world’s shark and ray species are threatened. The SSG highlighted overfishing as the main threat to sharks as the species have long been sought for their fins and meat.
  • Recovery from global overfishing is a difficult process for these animals given their slow growth, late maturity, and low reproductive rates.
  • Around the globe, populations of scalloped and great hammerhead sharks have undergone dramatic declines in recent decades, ranging between 60 and 99%. The IUCN SSG has categorized these two hammerheads as globally endangered and the most threatened of the world’s highly migratory, pelagic and semi-pelagic sharks. Hammerheads have exceptionally valuable fins and are also taken for their meat, often as juveniles.
  • One hammerhead shark generates over $80,000/year in Costa Rica’s Cocos Island National Park as a main dive attraction, and over $1.5 million during its lifetime (35 years), whereas a hammerhead shark purchased at the Costa Rican fish market will fetch around $200 for its fins and meat.
  • The silky shark is commonly caught, often as bycatch, in high seas long line and purse seine fisheries. Global populations have been depleted with estimated losses of 90% or more in some regions.
  • All three thresher species are classified by the IUCN SSG as Vulnerable, making this group among the most threatened shark families.