Having attended the 17th Conference of Parties (CoP17) of CITES as a technical adviser to some of the countries proposing listings for sharks and rays, Sarah Fowler reports on outstanding successes for some sharks and rays.
CoP17 broke several records for shark and ray conservation and management. The first, achieved long before delegates even met in Johannesburg, was the exceptionally large number of CITES Parties that co-sponsored each of the proposals for listing silky and thresher sharks and mobula rays in Appendix II. Supporters included close to half of all countries where these species occur (including some of the world’s largest shark-fishing nations), the 28 EU member states and many small island developing states, whose waters include a substantial area of the world’s oceans.
The second record was the landslide vote in favour of these proposals following the debate on them. The first shark vote was particularly striking because the silky shark is one of the world’s most heavily fished and commercially important sharks, even though catches have fallen steeply in recent years. The second shark vote concerned all three species of thresher shark. They belong to a family identified as one of the most seriously threatened in the world and are traded for their meat as well as fins. Both proposals were passed with 79% of the vote (a huge margin above the two-thirds majority needed). Finally, the whole family (nine species) of devil rays was added to Appendix II, joining the closely related manta rays listed at the previous CoP, with 85% of the votes cast. This brings the total number of sharks and rays listed in the CITES Appendices to 30 (sharp-eyed readers will notice that there are only 28 species illustrated on pages 82–83. That’s because a taxonomic reclassification of sawfishes has recently reduced their number from seven to five).
The vote counts were so overwhelmingly in favour of these listings that no attempt was made to reopen the debate on the sharks and rays with a view to overturning the results in the final Plenary. This probably contributed to a third record: CoP17 finished its business and closed one day earlier than scheduled – certainly a first for me.