Over the past several years conservationists have been working with countries around the globe to save sharks. Why do sharks need saving? Because decades of fishing for sharks – primarily for their fins, which are highly valued for their use in shark fin soup – has depleted their populations. Now, nearly one third of all shark species are threatened with extinction.
Each year there has been a growing awareness for the need to protect sharks. And more and more countries have been answering the call and putting in place measures to protect sharks from fishing in their respective waters.
2012 was an exceptionally good year for shark progress. French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, American Samoa, Venezuela, the European Union, and the state of Kosrae in the Federated States of Micronesia all created strong laws to protect sharks from fishing.
But perhaps even more important, was the significant progress made towards getting sharks protected on an international scale, for which progress has previously been slow. Sharks need protection worldwide because most species are widely distributed and frequently move from place to place.
The best way to protect species internationally is through the Convention on International Trade in Engendered Species (CITES) – a treaty among 176 countries which regulates the trade of vulnerable plant and animal species to ensure they are not further depleted. Unfortunately, CITES currently only offers protection to three (basking, whale, and great white) of the numerous threatened sharks species. But this could soon change.
In 2012, a record number of countries (35) joined together and submitted proposals to CITES, asking for the international protection for several threatened sharks– porbeagle shark, oceanic whitetip shark, and three hammerhead sharks. CITES members will meet in March 2013 to decide on whether to grant protection to these species.
At the last CITES meeting, similar proposals to protect sharks failed to pass. But this time there is increased support for sharks. Thus conservationists are hopeful that in March these threatened sharks will finally get the protection they deserve.
Shark expert and Blue Ocean Institute Fellow Dr. Demian Chapman says, “2012 was a good year for shark conservation, but 2013 has the potential to be a landmark one. It is possible that the members of CITES will vote to monitor international trade in five species and their fins, which would add some transparency to the shark fin trade for the first time in its 2000 year history!”
Elizabeth Brown is a research scientist at Blue Ocean Institute.