Inside Story

Can CITES save sharks from extinction?

We discuss if restrictions and sanctions are enough to stop the illegal trade in endangered species.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has wrapped up in Bangkok. Representatives from 178 countries, as well as trade groups and conservationists, deliberated on some 70 proposals during the meeting, which began on March 3, and is held every three years.  

The delegates have agreed on sanctions for countries that support trafficking in rhino horns and ivory, and they also struck a deal on trying to stop the illegal trade in sharks and manta rays.

“This has been a historic conference, the conference agreed to include five species of shark and two species of  manta rays in the list of species where trade is regulated and they are subject to legal scrutiny and scrutiny to ensure its sustainable, so a great day.”

– Colman O’Criodain, a biologist

Trade in more than 35,000 species is already limited, if not banned, but the shark trade is big business.

Around 100 million sharks are killed every year, mostly for their fins.
In country’s like China, shark-fin soup is a luxury enjoyed by the upper class, and as a result, shark populations have been decimated around the world.
As much as 90 percent of the world’s sharks have disappeared over the last 100 years because of overfishing.

As CITES moved to protect five species of sharks, a permit system will now control the trade in their fins. Countries now have 18 months to introduce new measures.

Moreover, the meeting reached a deal where governments have increased protection for the South African Rhino – putting pressure on Mozambique – a major transit point for Rhino horn – and on Vietnam, the main importer.

“Unfortunately the demand in these countries [Japan and China] is driving the trade in the shark finning that we see at the moment. So unfortunately they continue to support this demand from their own consumers, but it’s right and good that the international community has come together to decide that these five shark species should be regulated.”

– Tom Quinn, from the international fund for animal welfare and a political lobbyist

But there will not be immediate trade sanctions against countries engaged in the ivory trade.

Instead, all countries will have to report their stockpiles of ivory and nine countries have been given a year to improve enforcement.
But conservationists say anything short of a global ban creates uncertainty, which is exploited by poachers and traders.
And as with many threatened species, conservationists say enforcement is just a first step and that ountries also need to find ways of reducing the demand for the animals and animal products, and only that can ensure their long-term survival.

So, what will it take to enforce the deal? And is stopping the illegal trade in endangered species even possible?

Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, discusses with guests: Colman O’Criodain, a trade policy analyst at the World Wildlife Fund and a biologist; Susan Lieberman, the head of the Pew’s environmental trust CITES delegation; and Tom Quinn, from the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

“This was a great day and a great conference, in particular for these ocean species, it’s going to work, the governments have decided to wait 18 month to give time for capacity building and training. This was historic in listing the shark species and the two manta rays, but more than that, this was historic in the governments of the worlds agreeing that CITES, that regulates international trade and wild life products, is relevant and important for sharks and manta rays, these marine species the governments says should not be traded and eaten into extinction.”

– Susan Lieberman, the head of Pew’s CITES delegation