Threatened species of sharks, manta rays, elephants, and rhinoceroses will get some relief thanks to precedent-setting decisions taken at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that concluded yesterday in Bangkok.
Rising demand for shark fins, shark meat, and manta ray gills is on an unsustainable trajectory according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Earlier this week, a CITES committee approved what is called an Appendix II listing for five shark species and two species of rays, all of which are considered endangered or vulnerable by IUCN. Appendix II covers species that might face extinction if current trends continue, and CITES allows international trading of these species only if there are controls ensuring their survival in the wild. (An Appendix I listing—intended for species threatened with extinction—outlaws international commercial trading.)
"There has been an impasse for a number of years over whether or not CITES could further move into the listing of commercially valuable marine species that all the evidence suggests are being harvested unsustainably," says Simon Stuart, who chairs the IUCN's Species Survival Commission.
Those opposed to the changes argued that regional fisheries management organizations should address the threats to sharks and rays. But the stocks "have not been managed sustainably," Stuart says. He acknowledges that enforcement will be a challenge. He thinks that CITES should work in concert with regional organizations to manage the fisheries in a sustainable way based on scientific input.
Enforcement was the key issue in the decisions on ivory and rhino horns. Parties to the convention, as participating countries are called, decided to initiate a process requiring China, Kenya, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Uganda, Tanzania, and Vietnam to develop plans to crack down on illegal ivory and rhino horn trading. "CITES is ready to get tough on the countries that are the focus of the illegal [ivory] trade," Stuart says.
Over the course of the 12-day meeting, delegates agreed on tighter controls over the trading of tropical timber and on some species of tortoise and freshwater turtles. They also decided to ban international commercial trade in the critically endangered freshwater sawfish. But a call to tighten restrictions on trading in polar bear hides, claws, and teeth put forward by the United States and supported by Russia was defeated after opposition from Canada, Denmark (Greenland), and Norway.
The final score at the 12-day meeting was 55 proposals accepted, nine rejected, and six withdrawn. "Overall, we are pretty pleased," Stuart says. One concern is that "the science isn't being followed as closely as it should be," he says.
The next CITES meeting will be held in South Africa in 2016.