Global Wildlife Summit approves shark protection plan

Delegates at a global summit on the trade in endangered species on Friday approved a plan to protect 54 more shark species, a move that could drastically reduce the lucrative and cruel trade in shark fins.

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Members of the requiem shark and hammerhead shark families will now have their trade strictly controlled under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The proposal was adopted by consensus on the final day of the two-week meeting of delegates from 183 countries and the European Union.

The delegates have considered 52 proposals to change the species’ protection levels. Other species discussed were glass frogs, crocodiles, guitar fish and some turtles.

Panamanian delegate Shirley Binder told AFP the “historic decision” would mean a large number of sharks that make up 90 percent of the market would now be protected.

Insatiable appetite in Asia for shark fins, which find their way onto dinner tables in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan, has fueled their trade.

Despite being described as almost tasteless and gelatinous, shark fin soup is seen as a delicacy and is enjoyed by the very wealthy, often at weddings and expensive banquets.

Shark fins, which represent a market of about $500 million a year, can be sold for about $1,000 per kilogram (2.2 pounds).

“This will be remembered as the day we turned the tide to prevent the extinction of the world’s sharks and rays,” said Luke Warwick, head of shark conservation for the NGO Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

“The crucial next step will be to implement these lists and ensure that they result in stronger fisheries management and trade measures as soon as possible.”

From villain to darling

Sharks have long been seen as the villains of the oceans they’ve occupied for more than 400 million years, terrorizing their portrayal in movies like “Jaws” and occasional attacks on humans.

However, these ancient predators have undergone an image makeover in recent years as conservationists have highlighted the critical role they play in regulating ocean ecosystems.

According to the Pew Environment Group, between 63 million and 273 million sharks are killed each year, mainly for their fins and other parts.

With many shark species taking more than 10 years to reach sexual maturity, and with a low fertility rate, the constant hunting of the species has decimated their numbers.

In many parts of the world, fishermen release the shark’s fins into the ocean and throw the shark back into the ocean for a gruesome death by suffocation or blood loss.

Conservationists’ efforts led to a turning point in 2013, when CITES introduced the first trade restrictions on certain shark species.

“We are in the midst of a very large shark extinction crisis,” Warwick said earlier at the summit.

The decision follows a heated debate after Japan and Peru tried to reduce the number of species to be protected.

However, their proposal was rejected.

CITES, which entered into force in 1975, has set international trade rules for more than 36,000 wild species.

Its signatories include 183 countries and the European Union.


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