World wildlife body moves to protect five shark species

11 March 2013 - 14:34 By Sapa-dpa
A oceanic whitetip shark. File photo.
A oceanic whitetip shark. File photo.
Image: Peters underwater photos and sea/ Wikimedia Commons

The world's main body regulating trade in wildlife has moved to provide five shark species with greater protection against overfishing driven primarily by demand for fin soup in Asia and shark steaks in Europe.

The oceanic whitetip, three hammerhead species and the porbeagle won the required two-thirds of the votes at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, meaning they can only be bought and sold if the trade is certified as sustainable.

The whitetip won 68 per cent of the votes while the proposal covering scalloped, great and smooth hammerheads won 70 per cent, and the porbeagle received 70 per cent.

"We are delighted that the CITES parties have decided to combat the voracious trade in shark fins that currently slaughters up to 100 million sharks per year by granting greater protection for several species of sharks," said Ralf Sonntag, shark specialist for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

All five species are listed as endangered except the smooth hammerhead, which is in the more critical vulnerable category.

Soup made with the fins of whitetip and hammerheads is a delicacy in many East Asian countries, while the porbeagle is highly valued for its meat in Europe, where it is the largest marine predator.

The European Union has banned porbeagle fishing in the north-east Atlantic and Mediterranean since 2011.

European consumption has been blamed for the 99-per-cent decline of porbeagle sharks in the Mediterranean and 94-per-cent decline in the north-east Atlantic since the early 1960s.

"It's our fault. We ate them," said Sarah Fowler, a shark expert with the EU delegation at CITES.

Whitetip sharks have declined of 70 to 93 per cent in various territories, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, due to finning.

Close votes may be resubmitted to the convention's plenary session, which is due Wednesday and Thursday.

If confirmed at the plenary, the new protection for the sharks "would help regulate the international trade in their fins and make sure that it is managed in a biologically sustainable way," Sonntag said.

The convention allows member countries an 18-month grace period to implement its trade edicts.