Greater protection for shark species as conservation vote passes

China and Japan were among the 30 nations that voted against the move from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 October, 2016, 8:02am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 October, 2016, 9:02pm

Member states of an international convention on wildlife trade voted to tighten export scrutiny for four species of shark late on Monday night, scoring a major victory for conservationists across Asia and Hong Kong – one of the world’s biggest hubs for shark fin trade.

The proposal to list the silky shark under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) garnered the support 111 members including the 28-member European Union. China and Japan were among the 30 nations that voted against it.

While mainland China is a signatory to the convention, Hong Kong, not being a sovereign state, is not but follows CITES provisions strictly under the scope of local laws.

Hong Kong will have added responsibility in shark conservation work and management given that it plays host to more than 50 per cent of the world trade in shark fin
Apple Chow Yuen-ping, Hong Kong Shark Foundation

Also on the agenda was the listing for three types of thresher sharks, which was passed by 108 votes to 29. Devil rays were also given Appendix II protection at the CITES 17th Conference of Parties in Johannesburg, South Africa. The meeting, which dealt with more than 200 documents, concludes on Wednesday.

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Species under this appendix are not necessarily threatened by extinction, but trade must be closely controlled through export and re-export permits to ensure it is not detrimental to their populations.

“We are very happy to see the motion passed by a majority vote even in the face of major opposition from countries in and around Asia,” said Hong Kong Shark Foundation executive director Apple Chow Yuen-ping, who attended the meeting.

“After the passing of this motion, Hong Kong will have added responsibility in shark conservation work and management given that it plays host to more than 50 per cent of the world trade in shark fin.” She suggested the government re-examine its role as the global centre of the trade given the falling demand and prices.

Glenn Sant, fisheries programme manager of international wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC said the listing of sharks and rays is one major step for conservation, but only provided “paper protection” unless it is “backed up by sound implementation”.

“Traceability holds the key to strengthening the backbone of sustainable and legal trade in shark and ray products—it’s all about feeling confident that when you read the fine print it tells you the products are legal and sustainable.”

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The last Cites meeting in 2013 added the hammerhead, oceanic whitetip and porbeagle sharks to the Appendix II as well as all species of manta rays.

Thresher shark stocks have declined by 83 per cent in the Pacific in recent years, while stocks of silky sharks have fallen 67 per cent in the Pacific in the past 20 years, mostly as a result of becoming “by-catches” of the tuna fisheries trade.

Over 100 million sharks of different species are estimated to be killed in commercial fisheries every year. Their fins often end up in mainland China and Hong Kong, where they are considered a delicacy and made into soup.

Hong Kong shark fin trade representatives believe the silky and thresher make up only a few per cent of the local market, but more complex trade documentation could affect their ability to source other species.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said traders would be informed of the amendments made in the Appendices to Cites after the conference and the corresponding controls in Hong Kong. The city’s Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance would also be amended subsequently.