Biodiversity: More protection for manta rays?

CITES considering new regulations on international trade

A manta ray at a coral “cleaning station.” Photo via Wikimedia and the Creative Commons.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With many hark and ray species threatened with extinction as a result of directed fishing and unintentional fisheries bycatch, the United States, Brazil, Ecuador, and more than 30 other countries have proposed to list several shark and ray species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

CITES is meeting this week in Bangkok to consider global conservation policy and will consider regulations on international trade for the oceanic whitetip shark, porbeagle shark, three species of hammerhead shark, and two species of manta ray. Another species, the freshwater sawfish, is proposed for up-listing to a status that prohibits commercial international trade completely.

Pressure on the species is driven by the high demand for their fins, meat and gill rakers — used in shark fin soup and other dishes.

Conservation groups acknowledged U.S. leadership on the issue, explaining that many sharks and rays need more protection to survive.

“We commend the leadership of the United States and other government sponsors in requesting these essential measures to control and monitor international trade in these shark and ray species, and we implore other governments to vote in their favor,” said Dr. Cristián Samper, president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “These taxa have suffered alarming declines from unregulated or insufficiently regulated fisheries and are in high demand for international commercial markets. There is a desperate need for trade controls to manage that demand and its impact on these vulnerable fishes.”

The proposals under consideration will significantly increase the number of sharks and rays that are regulated under CITES: currently, only a few of shark and ray species—the whale shark, basking shark, great white shark, and seven sawfishes—are listed. In order to be adopted, the proposals need approval from two-thirds of the governments voting.

“CITES listings for these species would help put controls on an international trade that threatens many shark species and the livelihoods that depend on them,” said Dr. Elizabeth Bennett, vice president of WCS’s Species Program and leader of the WCS CITES delegation.

Unlike many bony fish species, most cartilaginous fishes are long-lived, late-to-mature, and produce few young, making them vulnerable to over-fishing and their populations slow to recover once depleted.

“Demand for shark fins—the prime ingredient in shark fin soup— and gill rakers from manta rays is driving legal and illegal shark and ray fishing beyond what is sustainable, with estimates of tens of millions of animals killed annually to supply these trades, “said Dr. Rachel Graham, director of WCS’s Gulf and Caribbean Sharks and Rays Program. “Listing under CITES will provide a much-needed framework to monitor and regulate these heavily traded and highly sought-after species.”

WCS is committed to saving sharks and rays as part of a global commitment to promote recovery of depleted and threatened populations of marine species, halt the decline of fragile marine ecosystems, and improve the livelihoods and resilience of coastal communities throughout the world’s oceans.



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