International agreement gives more protection to 21 shark species

An unprecedented number of sharks, including two species of hammerheads, the entire genus of thresher sharks, and the silky shark species received additional protection Sunday.

The species were incorporated into Appendix II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals during its 11th Meeting of the Conference of Parties in Quito, Ecuador, said Andy Bystrom and Randall Arauz, who attended the session.

They are members of the Programa Restauración de Tiburones y Tortugas Marinas.

The favorable vote by the 120 member convention parties to list these six species of sharks in its Appendix II is the culmination of an eight-month collaborative effort between an international group of non-government organizations, the convention secretariat, the European Union, and the Costa Rican, Ecuadorian, and Egyptian governments.

“The species listed under Appendix II are very important for Costa Rica,” said Gina Cuza, who represented the Costa Rican government. “Hammerhead sharks are a main attraction of the recreational dive industry, particularly in Cocos Island, while silky sharks are the most commonly caught species by our pelagic fisheries, where thresher sharks are also commonly caught, she said, according to the Programa.

“Sharks face an uphill battle, there’s no doubt about that,” said Bystrom. “This is why governments need to implement regional and global conservation strategies that include decreasing the fishing pressure on these animals and protecting essential coastal habitats where many shark species reproduce,” he said, according to his organization’s summary.

“The work has only just begun, as many pressures exist due to the many interests at stake,” said Arauz, “If we don’t act now, it will be impossible to restore the populations of these threatened marine species, which are vital for the function of the marine ecosystem, and upon which humanity itself depends on.”

The vote means that the 120 governments that belong to the convention have identified them as among the shark species most in need of conservation action and have committed to work together to better protect them. The convention is the only global entity that specializes in the conservation of migratory species, their habitats, and their migration routes.

“The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Time for Action,’ and governments did not disappoint,” said Bradnee Chambers, convention executive secretary. “Thanks to a truly international coalition of shark champions, CMS will now help with global coordination to protect these species throughout their range.”

The action is a significant step toward better management of these species, and it is a crucial acknowledgement that healthy sharks are critical to healthy oceans.  Governments will now have to coordinate through various global or regional agreements and organizations to better protect and manage these migratory species.

“Today is an important day for sharks and rays,” said Luke Warwick, a global shark conservation expert with The Pew Charitable Trusts. “Countries have acknowledged that cooperation is key to properly managing at-risk shark populations and that species such as silky, hammerhead, and thresher sharks are in urgent need of better protections. The CMS action gives these already depleted species a chance to recover and encourages precautionary, sustainable management of all sharks.”

About 100 million sharks are killed each year in commercial fisheries, an unsustainable figure. In some regions, numbers of the newly protected species have plummeted to less than 20 percent of their populations’ original size.

This urgently needed action came about because the governments of Ecuador, Costa Rica, Egypt, Fiji, Kenya, and the United Kingdom together proposed the listing of these 21 species, Pew said in a statement.

The convention’s Appendix II listings allow sustainable fishing of sharks, but if management measures are not effectively implemented, the listed species could qualify for the more strict protections offered under Appendix I. To ensure that these listings have the needed impact, the convention parties must follow through on their commitments to cooperate by developing stronger domestic shark protections, while considering international management, said Pew.

Isla de Cocos hammerheads are famous.

Isla de Cocos hammerheads are famous.

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