7 Species of Sharks and Manta Rays Receive International Protection

Following news earlier this month that 100 million sharks are killed each year by fishermen—an astounding 274,000 every day—global governments agreed this week to offer the ocean predators new protection.

At the annual meeting for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok this week, a coalition of global governments voted to protect five species of sharks and two species of manta rays. By restricting the international trade of the animals’ fins, regulators hope to add legal and social stigma to killing overfished marine wildlife, several species of which have been declining at rates faster than some scientists believe the animals can reasonably rebuild their populations.

The species deemed imperiled that will receive the new protections are oceanic white tip sharks, three species of hammerhead sharks (scalloped hammerheads, great hammerheads, and smooth hammerhead) and porbeagle sharks. The main drive was led by Colombia, Brazil, and the United States. Only about two-third of the countries agreed to many of the changes in international law. Forty two countries opposed the proposal.

Bryan Arroyo, lead negotiator for the U.S., said his delegation was “extremely pleased” at the vote, an agreement not nearly as well received among some Asian countries. Both China and Japan voted no, arguing that shark population management should fall to regional fishery managers, rather than international bodies.

Most sharks are desired for their fins, the primary ingredient in shark fin soup in China and other parts of Asia. While global quotas on shark takes have long existed, high demand for fins has led many fisherman to bypass quotas by simply cutting the fins off of live sharks and throwing their bodies back into the water, where they eventually suffocate.

Some fin trade will be able to continue under the agreement, but at a reduced level that regulators, working with scientists, will agree is sustainable. Left unknown is whether shark fins becoming more scarce might result in driving the price of shark fin soup—and the bounty on fins—up even higher.

Update: CITES members also voted by consensus to approve Australia’s proposal to list freshwater sawfish on Appendix I, meaning most commercial trade would be banned. (The ruling still needs to be finalized at the plenary on Thursday.)

“The sawfishes are among the oceans’ most threatened species and urgently need the strongest protections possible,” Sonja Fordham, president of Shark Advocates International, said in a statement.