Sharks and rays in the international spotlight at CITES CoP18
WWF supports three proposed shark and ray Appendix II listings ahead of the upcoming 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP18) to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Improved management and trade controls are key to reducing population declines in listed species.
Between 17 – 28 August this year, representatives of 183 governments from around the world will attend the CITES CoP18 in Geneva, Switzerland. Joined by enforcement agencies and NGOs, the participants are meeting to review progress on wildlife trade issues, update international trade regulations for threatened species, and strengthen trade management.
CoP18 proceedings will include voting on the proposals to amend the CITES Appendices for a number of species, including two mako sharks – shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) and longfin mako shark (Isurus paucus) – as well as two families of rays – giant guitarfishes (Glaucostegidae) and wedgefishes (Rhinidae). All these species are proposed for Appendix II listing and are supported by WWF, as well as the Global Sharks and Rays Initiative (GSRI), in addition to the many proponent countries. If the new proposals are accepted and these species get listed, it will be critical to ensure that controls on international trade are enforced and Appendix II listings can have their full, positive impact on these threatened species.
Proposal no.42 suggests to include the shortfin mako shark – the fastest shark in the oceans – in Appendix II based on population declines, whereas the justification for including the longfin mako shark is primarily due to similarities in appearance. Just this March, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released new, alarming assessments for both mako shark species, downgrading them to Endangered, now one step closer to extinction, due to steep population declines around the world (e.g. 60% drop for the shortfin mako in the Atlantic over past 75 years; read more here). Since mako sharks are not subject to any fishing quotas on the high seas, and with their meat and fins valued in the international trade, an Appendix II listing is crucial to ensure that the continuing trade is sustainable, and not driving further population declines.
Giant guitarfishes and wedgefishes, two unique families referred to as “rhino rays”, are bottom-dwelling inhabitants of shallow, tropical waters. The listing proposal no. 43 for giant guitarfishes suggests that two species – the blackchin guitarfish (Glaucostegus cemiculus) and the sharpnose guitarfish (Glaucostegus granulatus) – are added to Appendix II based on population declines, and the other four known species are listed based on their similarity of appearance. For wedgefishes, proposal no. 44 suggests listing two species of white-spotted wedgefish (Rhynchobatus australiae and Rhynchobatus djiddensis) due to population declines, with the remaining eight wedgefish species to be listed based on their similarity of appearance. Both rhino ray families made international headlines this July when IUCN published new Red List assessments for all 16 species, revealing that all but one were categorised as Critically Endangered, mostly due to overfishing for meat and fins (see here). Giant guitarfishes and wedgefishes suffered declines of over 80% over the past 30-45 years, with two species (clown wedgefish and false shark ray) very close to extinction and one species (blackchin guitarfish) extirpated from most of the Mediterranean. While the bleak state of rhino rays around the world suggests that they should be completely protected within their ranges, the proposed Appendix II listings would result in much needed controls on the international trade in their products.
Despite sharp population declines of mako sharks and rhino rays, there are no regional high seas catch limits for the former, and for the latter, only 8 out of 88 range countries have specific conservation measures, while there is a fishing ban in the Mediterranean. Timely, efficient implementation and rigorous enforcement of the new trade controls would be crucial for the listings to reach their full potential and give these species a chance to recover. For rhino rays, the Appendix II listing could be instrumental in stopping the current largely unsustainable international trade in their sought-after products. For mako sharks on the other hand, the listing could play a key role in scaling the international trade to sustainable levels. As both mako sharks and rhino rays are often caught in fisheries targeting a range of species, it is likely that they will continue being caught. It will be crucial to introduce new species-specific management measures and work towards decreasing bycatch fishing mortality for all these species to ensure that listing implementation can have real conservation benefits for these threatened fishes.
An update on the proposed elasmobranch listings will be published once the voting results have been announced.
You may learn more about mako sharks, giant guitarfishes, and wedgefishes from the below fact-sheets prepared by the GSRI. These include detailed information on the biology, distribution, threats, fisheries, trade, and conservation measures as well as expert advice on the proposed CITES Appendix II listings for these species.
- Shortfin and longfin mako shark fact-sheet (CITES CoP18 proposal no.42)
- Giant guitarfishes and wedgefishes fact-sheet (CITES CoP18 proposal no.43 & 44)