Hammerheads win initial international protection vote

A.M. Costa Rica file photos by Frank Stenstrom
Hammerheads, by the hundreds or individually, are the signature species at Isla del Coco

A local environmental organization is claiming victory because a gathering of nations has voted to protect five species of shark.

Costa Rica was one of the sponsors of the proposal, which would impose tighter controls on the shark finning trade.

However, the results are not yet final in that opponents of the ban might seek to reverse the decision.

The 91 to 39 vote came at the annual plenario of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The proposal was to include the five shark species in the Appendix II of the convention.

Randall Arauz is a Costa Rican environmentalist serving as an adviser to the Costa Rican delegation.

“This measure will finally control the irrational and unsustainable catch of hammerhead sharks to meet the demand of shark fins in international markets,” said Arauz.

Arauz said that the vote is not final because China or Japan will surely try to overturn the vote when the convention returns to plenary. He is associated with the Programa Restauración de Tortugas Marinas and has waged a long battle against the shark fining trade. The final vote on the proposal is expected Thursday.

The meeting is in Bangkok, Thailand, where Arauz reported that Costa Rica had support from Honduras, Brazil, Central America, most of the South American countries, the European Union, the United States, and blocs of African nations.

A recent academic study estim sharks a year are killed to supply the shark fin trade. Costa Rica has been a center of the trade until recently.

“The hammerhead shark is of extreme importance to Costa Rica, not only due to its importance in domestic fisheries, but also due to its importance for the dive industry, where their observation generates yearly revenues of millions of U.S. dollars,” said José Joaquín Calvo, chief of the Costa Rican delegation, in a summary provided by Arauz. “We will continue with these regional and global processes, to guarantee the sustainable use of hammerhead sharks and other highly migratory species for the future generations.”

If the incusion is approved, the stricter requirements would only affect international trade. The five species that received approval are the oceanic whitetip, scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead, smooth hammerhead and porbeagle.

Two manta ray species also included are one that lives near reefs and another that is migratory.

If final approval is given, the sharks and rays would not be subject to a total ban. Appendix II does allow commercial trade. But countries involved in such trade must do two things. They have to prove that the sharks and rays were, one, legally caught and, two, sustainably caught.

“It means now that these shark populations will undergo much greater scrutiny before they’re allowed to be traded internationally,” said Glenn Sant, global marine program leader for TRAFFIC, a non-profit organization concerned with biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.

“I must say though it is a bit of a bittersweet win today,” he added. “You know, it’s sad that we’ve had to get to the point where some of these shark populations have been reduced to such levels that we then only give attention to them.”

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