By Leah Meth
Today, on the last day of CITES CoP16 here in Bangkok, the shark and manta proposals will be first up this morning in the final plenary meeting. We’ll be livetweeting the whole time so that you can follow the discussion play by play. In the meantime, we thought it would be useful to put together a quick summary of the main arguments and questions that have been raised that will likely come up again today and the responses we’ve heard that debunk or address these claims:
1) CITES is the wrong forum for regulating international trade. Iceland, Japan and China argued in their interventions that management of sharks should be the responsibility of RFMOs.
2) Tied to this argument is the claim that there isn’t enough data to adopt these proposals.
Brazil, New Zealand and the US countered this point in their interventions, arguing that CITES would complement RFMOs. First, Appendix II listing would create a better record of trade and key data on stocks, which is required to ensure the sustainability of the fisheries in question. As NZ said, “Basically all oceanic sharks are data deficient…and RFMOs need to better monitor and regulate catches…CITES listing will aid in this, not detract.”
All three parties went on to say that far from being superfluous, CITES would fill a key gap, since RFMOs fail to cover the entire range of these shark and ray species. “This is a global problem that requires a worldwide solution.” CITES is a key part of that solution.
Several arguments then centered on questions of implementation:
3) “[Fin] Identification will be too difficult”
This argument came up repeatedly by Japan and China in Committee I, despite the fact that this has been thoroughly disproven with much thanks to Dr. Demian Chapman and the Pew Charitable Trusts.
4) We need more capacity to implement the proposals.
Several developing countries, including supporters, voiced the importance of focusing on implementation of these listings. As a delegate from Senegal said in an NGO meeting Tuesday, “While we are very happy with the outcome thus far, and happy with the organization of and process leading up to the CoP, we should note that we’ve won the battle, but the hardest, most difficult work is still ahead of us.” One of the members of the Jordan delegation concurred: “We are obligated to implement these decisions. Listing is one thing. Implementation is another… We need NGOs and concerned parties to think about ways to bring concerned parties and agencies together to do the capacity building and awareness programs.” Though implementation will be a major challenge, encouraging steps have been made.
Aid in capacity building has been offered on several levels:
Financial promises have come from developed nations. The EU has pledged 1.2 million euros to the CITES secretariat to be used to implement marine listings in developing countries. New Zealand also stepped up, saying that “Implementation issues can be overcome…financial and technical capacity will be provided for countries that need it.”
Developing nations have also offered support, with Colombia and Brazil offering to support capacity building in Latin America as well as other regions. For example, Brazil has set dates for regional workshops.
NGOs such as the Pew Charitable Trusts also spoke in their intervention on recently launched projects focusing on training systems, fin, and gill raker identification guides for customs officials and capacity building programs.
Developing countries responded optimistically:
Nigeria: “18 months is enough to sort out implementation measures in party countries and we are pleased with assistance offered.”
Congo: “Passing these proposals will give the donor community necessary impetus to support implementation.”
Furthermore, as Luke Warwick of the Pew Charitable Trusts said in an interview on Wednesday, regional assessments and the sort of data needed to issue NDFs is already in place in many places and the enforcement side is in a good place. Additional support from co-sponsors and developed countries will help to create country-specific solutions.
5) Wealthy Western nations are bullying developing nations.
Warwick explained to the Shark Stanley team that in the Japanese media this week, the proposals are being framed as coercive efforts on the part of countries like the EU member states and the US that push developing nations into a difficult position.
This is simply not the case. As I wrote about in my last blog, these proposals and the results of Committee I are historic based on the record number of sponsoring countries, with strong support from developing nations, especially in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. As Warwick says, “the symbolic aspect of this is huge.” To have these calls for shark and manta protection emanating from these countries and regions themselves is extremely important. This is no longer the situation of earlier CITES CoPs where there was pressure from developed countries. Now, it is a matter of developing countries taking the lead with countries like the EU and US offering partnership, technical, and financial aid and capacity.
6) Local livelihoods will be affected.
Appendix II listing is not a trade ban and as Brazil said, “This proposal is not a prohibition,” arguing, along with the USA, Senegal, and Benin that small scale fisheries and local livelihoods will not be affected by this listing:
Benin: “Listing will not negatively affect our local communities, rather it will lead to a sustainable future for the fishery.”
Senegal: “Our generation has the obligation of rationally managing our resources sustainably for future generations. Listing Appendix II is now important for the management of shark species which have experienced disastrous decline.”
Furthermore, ecotourism and the conservation of these species offers lucrative alternative livelihoods to local people:
Maldives: “We are convinced that better alternatives can be found for shark fishermen on small islands…we banned shark and manta ray catches because they are worth more alive than dead.”
Guy Stevens of Manta Trust: Manta dive tourism brings in ~$140 million annually.
Australia: “People from all over the world come to dive with our sharks and mantas.”
The Pew Charitable Trusts has reports from Fiji and Palau with more information and robust evidence of the value of shark and manta ray ecotourism.
7) We’ll see “stockpiling” within the 18-month implementation period.
This is an argument of pro-trade groups, which says that the demand for species will increase along with fishing effort in the 18 month period before these listings come into effect. However, arguably, sharks are already being taken out as rapidly as possible. For example, it would be a challenge to find oceanic whitetip sharks in large quantities.
In closing: of course, all of these arguments – especially those surrounding the inevitable challenges of implementation – are incredibly complex, however I hope this has provided a brief breakdown of what we expect to hear today if any of the shark proposals reopen in plenary. These proposals and the results from Committee I are incredibly strong on all fronts. Now, we just need to hope that science prevails over politics and that CITES delegates stand by their vote.