A historic day at CITES for sharks

It was a historic day for sharks at CITES in Bangkok.Today, March 11, was a big day for sharks and may be one of the biggest days in CITES history for the conservation of these animals. Five species of sharks—the oceanic whitetip, three species of hammerheads and the porbeagle—were given Appendix 2 protection against overfishing and exploitation for their fins.

The day began with considerable anxiety about the upcoming proposals. Will there be enough votes to support them? Will there be last minute changes by countries under pressure by Japan or China?

After 90 minutes discussion on the floor about the oceanic whitetip, the proposal passed in secret ballot (requested by Japan) with 92 countries in favor and 42 against. The proposal received 68.66% of the vote, just enough to squeak by with the necessary two-thirds majority.

The result of the vote was met with a loud round of applause when it was shown on the big screen in the conference hall.

The hammerhead proposal passed 91 votes in favor and 39 votes against (a 70% margin) garnering strong support from Latin American countries, North America, Europe and West Africa.

The Gulf region also weighed in in support of the proposal. In recent months, IFAW has conducted shark conservation workshops in this region, which we believe had a positive impact.

It was also very beneficial for all three shark proposals to get strong support on the floor from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare was part of two NGO statements in support for oceanic whitetip and porbeagle.

A proposal to protect the sawfish also was adopted by consensus. The freshwater fish was uplisted from Appendix 2 to Appendix 1. Australia, which put forth the proposal, is the sole remaining  range state for the fish and the proposal’s passing was not a surprise.

Mantas also received protection achieving 96 yes votes against 23 no votes (80.6%).

So it was really a big day with four really controversial proposals all being adopted in the Committee 1 of the conference.

The sharks are not in the clear, however.

The proposals could be overturned in the plenary on Wednesday or Thursday. Japan can reopen the debate and the voting if 30% of the parties ask for it. We assume that Japan will try at least to reopen the whitetip discussion and if successful, they will try the others.

So we need to stay tuned and work strongly on the final adoption in plenary and ideally against any reopening of the discussion.

-- RS

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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