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United Nations: Protection for Manta Rays and Sharks in Effect

(Sept. 16, 2014) United Nations-sponsored restrictions on trade in sharks and manta rays became effective on September 14, 2014. Permits and certificates establishing that sustainable, legal methods have been used to harvest five kinds of sharks and all manta rays now are needed for the sale of meat, gills, and fins. The shark species involved are the oceanic whitetip shark, the scalloped hammerhead shark, the great hammerhead shark, the smooth hammerhead shark, and the porbeagle shark. While other shark species have previously been subject to restrictions, this is the first listing of these particular species that have significant commercial value. (New UN-Backed Protections for Sharks, Manta Rays Enter into Effect, UN NEWS CENTRE (Sept. 12, 2014).)

The shark and ray species are now listed in Appendix II to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES); species listed in Appendix II are not considered likely to be close to extinction, but “trade in them is controlled to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.” (Sharks and Manta Rays, CITES website (Sept. 14, 2014); CITES (as amended June 22, 1979), CITES website (last visited Sept. 15, 2014).) This listing means that exports and re-exports will not be permitted without authorization from the authorities designated in each of the 180 CITES member nations. Countries that import the species must check that all shipments have the appropriate permits. (Press Release, CITES, Stronger Protection for Five Shark Species and All Manta Rays (Sept. 12, 2014).)

The hope is that global cooperation will prevent over-harvesting. Data about the trade in the listed species will be shared with the CITES Secretariat and be made available to the public, and the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) will support the CITES Secretariat in protecting these species. (Id.) The FAO has estimated that the world-wide shark capture from 2000-2009 alone was 750,000-900,000 tons. (Id.)

According to the Secretary-General of CITES, John Scanlon,

Regulating international trade in these shark and manta ray species is critical to their survival and is a very tangible way of helping to protect the biodiversity of our oceans. The practical implementation of these listings will involve issues such as determining sustainable export levels, verifying legality, and identifying the fins, gills and meat that are in trade. (Id.)

Not all countries have totally supported the new restrictions, however. Canada and Guyana entered reservations with respect to all the newly listed species; Japan has done so for all the shark species. Yemen entered a similar reservation for the three hammerhead shark species, and Denmark did so for Greenland regarding the porbeagle shark. By entering a reservation, a CITES party opts out of particular restrictions. (Id.)