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March 23, 2010

Sharks Denied Crucial Protection from International Fin Trade

DOHA, Qatar — Humane Society International representatives at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora condemned member countries that opposed proposals submitted by Palau and the United States to increase protection for hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks, which are over-exploited for the international trade in shark fins.

The high value of the fins and low value of the meat of hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks has led to widespread finning of these species — a wasteful and often illegal practice in which the fins are severed and the shark is thrown back into the ocean, dead or dying. The fins are used to make shark fin soup, a dish that is popular in many Asian countries and communities.

"Cutting the fins off a living shark is an extremely inhumane and unsustainable practice," said Rebecca Regnery, deputy director of wildlife for The Humane Society of the United States/Humane Society International. "A CITES Appendix II listing would ensure that the international trade in these species is properly regulated using sound science and conservation principles, which would  significantly reduce the number of sharks that suffer from being finned."

Hammerhead shark fins are among the most valuable fins in Asian markets. Hammerheads also suffer from high mortality rates when caught unintentionally by vessels targeting other species of fish such as tuna and swordfish.

The fins of the oceanic whitetip shark are also very valuable with an average auction price of $122 per kg. in Hong Kong. These fins are very distinctive due to their large size and white tips.

Humane Society International applauds the governments of Palau and the United States for bringing these proposals forward and are disappointed that in spite of all their hard work, the proposals were not adopted.

The hammerhead proposal was defeated in a vote of 75 in favor, 45 opposed and 14 abstentions. The oceanic whitetip proposal was defeated in a vote of 75 in favor, 51 opposed and 16 abstentions. Both votes were done by secret ballot. A two-thirds majority is needed for the adoption of a proposal.

Palau and the United States will most likely attempt to reopen the hammerhead proposal later this week during plenary, where it is possible that the decision could be reversed. Humane Society International strongly urges all member countries to support this important effort. As the distinguished Minister from Palau said when presenting this proposal, we must give the oceans time to heal from human abuse of our natural resources.

Notes:

  • The scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) is a coastal and semioceanic shark found in warm temperate and tropical seas. S. lewini is a wide-ranging species, found in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. The species is categorized as Endangered in the IUCN Red List (2009).
  • The Northwest Atlantic population of scalloped hammerheads declined by 98 percent between 1972 and 2003 and, in the Southwest Atlantic, catches dropped by more than 50 percent during the 1990s.
  • The CITES Appendix II listing proposal for scalloped hammerhead sharks includes two other species of hammerhead shark — great hammerheads (S. mokarran) and smooth hammerheads (S. zygaena) — because the fins from these species are difficult to distinguish from those of the scalloped hammerhead. Two other "look-alike" species of shark — dusky and sandbar — were removed from the proposal due to lack of support for their inclusion.
  • Individuals of S. lewini tend to aggregate, and aggregations are targeted by fisheries, making the species highly vulnerable to over-fishing. Catches are often unreported, particularly when only the fins are taken and the rest of the shark is discarded at sea. When reported, catches of S. lewini are often grouped with other hammerhead sharks as "Sphyrna spp."
  • The oceanic whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus) is one of the most widely distributed shark species. The species is conservatively categorized by IUCN (2009) as vulnerable globally, and as critically endangered in the Northwest and Western Central Atlantic. The species is unmanaged throughout its range, and falls into the FAO's lowest productivity category of the most vulnerable commercially exploited aquatic species.
  • In the Northwest and Western Central Atlantic regions, the estimated decline for oceanic whitetip sharks was 60-70 percent between 1992 and 2000.  In the Gulf of Mexico, whitetip sharks are estimated to have declined by 99 percent between the mid-1950s and the late 1990s.
  • The great white, basking and whale sharks were listed on CITES Appendix II in previous years.

An Appendix II listing would promote regional cooperation for shark conservation of the species, and facilitates the gathering of trade data. The implementation of CITES control measures for the regulation and monitoring of international trade is consistent with the FAO International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks.

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