By Megan Gannon
Conservationists voted Monday (March 11) to regulate the international trade of five species of sharks that are threatened by overfishing and targeted for their valuable fins.
Oceanic whitetip sharks, porbeagle sharks, scalloped hammerheads, great hammerheads and smooth hammerheads — as well as two species of manta rays — are set to get new protections after this week's votes at the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Bangkok.
If the proposals are upheld at a plenary session later this week, all seven animals will be listed under Appendix II of the CITES Treaty, which includes species that may become threatened with extinction if they are traded unsustainably. So far, basking sharks and great white sharks are the only species of elasmobranch (a family that includes sharks, rays and skates) listed on Appendix II.
Sharks are apex predators that help balance ecosystems in the world's oceans, and they have slow growth and reproductive rates, making it difficult for their populations to bounce back from big losses. The votes at CITES were applauded by conservationists and biologists who say overfishing is by far the biggest pressure faced by sharks.
The fish are harvested for their meat, liver oil and cartilage, as well as their fins, which are cut off to be used in shark fin soup, an ancient and prized delicacy in East Asia. According to the World Wildlife Fund, a shark's fin can sell for up to $135/kg in Hong Kong.
"That market has created a lot of demand for shark fins and even spawned a brutal practice in some fishing communities called 'finning,' in which sharks have their fins cut off (the most valuable part) and are then thrown back alive but finless, where they most certainly die," Alistair Dove, a marine scientist at the Georgia Aquarium, told LiveScience in an email. "Manta rays are facing a similar challenge, except that in those species it is the gill rakers that have developed a market for use in Chinese traditional medicine, leading to unsustainable harvest of those peaceful and graceful plankton feeders." More....