UPDATE: Good News!! All recommendations were adopted by CITES!! Silkies, threshers and devil rays are now listed on Appendix II !
CITES has adopted 3 Appendices with varying degrees of protection –
Appendix I: All species listed on this appendix I “are threatened with extinction and are or may be affected by trade”. The trade of wild-caught specismen is illegal. If products of animals are to be exported, special im- and export permits are needed and the exporting country needs to assure the export does not affect wild populations. Examples are:
Appendix II: The second Appendix lists all species that are not necessariliy threatend with extinction yet but if no action is taken may become so. It also includes species that are very similar to species already listed in the Appendices I & II. Similar to Appendix I, im- and export permits are required for the international trade. Interestingly, species listed on Appendix I but bred in captivity for commercial purposes are treated as Appendix II listings (Article VII). Currently all sharks and rays (besides the seven species of sawfishes) are listed on CITES Appendices are listed on Appendix II:
Appendix III: If indiviual member countries ask other CITES members for assisstance in controlling the trade of a certain species, but these species are not necessarily threatened with extinction in other parts of the world, these speices are listed on Appendix III. Examples are:
New Amendments must be approved by a two-thirds majority who are “present and voting” at each Conference of the Parties (=CoP). CITES conferences are usually held in a three year cycle.
As of today, 18 shark and ray species are listed on Appendix I & II. In 1994, sharks were first mentioned on CITES’ agenda but it took until 2003 to protect the first two shark species: whale sharks and basking sharks (Appendix II). The Great white shark followed in 2005 (Appendix II) and again two years later 6 out of 7 sawfishes were listed on Appendix I.
Although proposals for the protection of several other shark species were repeatedly discussed (hammerhead sharks, sandbar shark, dusky shark, porbeagle shark, spiny dogfish, oceanic whitetip shark) it wasn’t until 2013 when three species of hammerhead sharks (scalloped, great and smooth hammerheads), the oceanic whitetip, the porbeagle shark as well as both manta ray species were finally added to Appendix II.
This year, at the 17th Conference of the Parties in Johannesburg, again proposal for the listing of sharks and rays were submitted. All thresher sharks, silky sharks as well as devil rays are about to be discussed – will they be listed on CITES Appendices? Fingers crossed!
Silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis)
The proposal of the listing of the silky shark under Appendix II was handed in by the Maldives and is supported by 21 other member countries. Silkies are commercially exploited and declines of between 70 % up to 90 % are reported in all regions. Thir assessment as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN is from 2007 and out of date. The biology of silkies makes them one of the most vulnerable open ocean shark species to overexploitation.
Bigeye thresher shark (Alopias superciliosus)
Bigeye thresher sharks are estimated to have declined to less than 30 % of published baseline data, mainly due to the fintrade where this shark’s fins are highly valued. Similar to many other shark species, thresher sharks generally mature late (females between 12 and 14 years) and only give birth to about two pups (Compagno 2001). Due to the lifespan of about 20 yeras and a 12 month gestation period (Compagno 2001), bigeye thresher sharks will only produce about less than twenty pups during their life cycle (Amorim et al. 2009). Alongside the two other thresher shark species (Common thresher Alopias vulpinus and pelagic thresher Alopias pelagicus ) 24 states proposed the listing of the bigeye thresher shark on Appendix II.
Devil rays (Mobula spp.)
A joint proposal of 23 member states was handed in to add all 9 devil ray species on Appendix II. Dried gill plates (which they are mainly exploited for) are very similar among the species and very hard to distinguish among eachother as well as from the already protected manta rays and thus all 9 species should be included into the listing.
Similar to their already protected relatives – the Manta rays – the commercially most important devil ray species Mobula japanica and Mobula tarapacana are large-bodied and slow-growing animals that are especially targeted for their gill plates, which are believed to possess special healing capabilities in the traditional asian medicine. One adult individuals can yield up to 3,5 kg of dried fin plates which sell up to 557 USD retail price in China (CITES proposal).
Now it is on the delegates to decide! Let us keep our fingers crossed!
Amorim, A., Baum, J., Cailliet, G.M., Clò, S., Clarke, S.C., Fergusson, I., Gonzalez, M., Macias, D., Mancini, P., Mancusi, C., Myers, R., Reardon, M., Trejo, T., Vacchi, M. & Valenti, S.V. 2009. Alopias superciliosus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2009: e.T161696A5482468.
Compagno, L.J.V. 2001. Sharks of the World: An Annotated and Illustrated Catalogue of Shark Species Known to Date, vol. 2. Bullhead, mackerel, and carpet sharks (heterodontiformes, lamniformes and orectolobiformes) FAO species catalogue for fishery purposes, no. 1. FAO, Rome.
CITES – Text of the Convention
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Tom Vierus is an award-winning photographer, filmmaker, and marine biologist based in Suva, Fiji Islands. This blog is dedicated to his assignments and to sharing some behind-the-scenes footage.