Sharks and Manta Rays Get Extra Protection
Finally, some good news for sharks and manta rays! On 14 September, new international laws went into effect to provide extra protection for five species of shark and all species of manta ray.
Sharks and manta rays are hunted for a variety of reasons – food, medicine, trophies – and have been brought increasingly closer to the brink of extinction over the years. They are not the types of creatures that can be bred in captivity and reintroduced into the wild, so when they are gone, they really are gone.
The basking shark and great white shark were already part of the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) treaty, under Appendix II. They have now been joined by five other species: great hammerhead sharks, oceanic whitetip sharks, porbeagle sharks, scalloped hammerhead sharks and smooth hammerhead sharks.
The new regulations mean that any live specimens of (or pieces of) manta rays or the five shark species can only be exported with a special permit that needs to be obtained in advance. If a permit is not provided to confirm that the creatures have been legally and sustainably harvested, the sale of that creature’s fin or meat will be prohibited.
“Now, the international community is paying more attention to the ocean,” explained CITES legal expert Juan Carlos Vasquez. “The health of marine species is a good indicator of the health of this big marine ecosystem.”
It is possible that the fishing focus could shift to other shark species and creatures not yet listed on the CITES treaty, or simply move to another area, so the Convention and other authorities will have to remain vigilant.
Although some countries have said that they will not be bound by the new laws, but will only be able to trade with other countries that have also declined, greatly limiting trade possibilities.
As the regulations are rolled out, ports of entry will be used by customs agencies and national authorities to check permits and looking for illegal shark parts, and so far, environmentalists and fisheries officials have been cooperating in making sure these new rules are followed.
“It is an amazing movement we are witnessing here,” Vasquez noted. “For the first time, we are finding a way to bring these players together.”
CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon said that the regulations will need to be practically implemented by determining manageable export levels, sorting out the special permits, and identifying the shark and manta ray parts that are already being traded.
“Regulating international trade in these sharks and manta ray species is critical to their survival,” he said. “This may seem challenging, but by working together we can do it and we will do it.”