Monday, September 22, 2014

Trading in CITES—listed sharks can cost cabinetmakers’ jobs

Guest Post
by Marc De Verteuil

Angelo Villagomez, manager at the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Global Shark Conservation campaign, lifts the juvenile scalloped hammerhead. I ask him to hold it up to hold it up for a photo opportunity. “Hold it like it is a baby,” I tell him. It is lighter than it looks.

When most of us think of a hammerhead shark, we imagine the 16ft full-grown variety. A 5’10” human holding, what could have been, a great apex predator puts things in perspective. Worldwide about 100 million sharks are caught each year. Of this number, studies suggest that 26 to 73 million are harvested annually for their fins.

Villagomez, in Trinidad together with his colleague KerriLynn Miller, Senior Associate at Pew’s Global Shark Conservation, looks at it and reminds me that the next day new Cites rules go in to force. “From tomorrow (September 14, 2014) T&T has to stop the international trade in hammerheads, porbeagles, oceanic whitetips and mantas because they have not produced a non-detriment finding showing that the fishery is sustainable…” He goes on to say that there are only a few tens of thousands of these scalloped hammerheads left in the Atlantic. That sounds dramatic, considering hundreds of these are sold at markets in T&T each day.

A few days later, while writing this article, I ask him to back-up the claim and he e-mails me the following: “A recent stock assessment (Hayes et al. 2009) found that the northwestern Atlantic population has decreased from about 155,500 in 1981 to about 26,500 in 2005.

Other studies have shown scalloped hammerheads have declined more than 90 per cent. The scalloped hammerhead shark is considered endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.”

It is a moment of introspection, a bit dimmed from the loud “whoop-whoops” shouted out in conservation circles when, at the 2013 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) meeting in Bangkok, a majority vote was announced to grant Appendix II protection to three species of hammerhead sharks (great hammerhead, scalloped hammerhead and smooth hammerhead), oceanic whitetip sharks and all mantas. Those victory cries stemmed from conservationists’ concerns that global shark numbers are in a dizzying race to the bottom.

T&T is the number-six exporter of shark fin to Hong Kong, where shark fin is an entrenched cultural culinary item. To eat shark meat in T&T is as much a cultural habit, as it is to slurp shark fin soup in Hong Kong or China. The country imports sharks for consumption, and thousands of sharks are locally caught for sale in markets all across the Caribbean nation each day.

What does Cites Appendix II mean in real terms, on the ground, in a country like T&T? First off let’s look at what it is meant to achieve.

“An Appendix II listing under Cites is designed to ensure that commercial international trade is strictly regulated to ensure its sustainability, legality and traceability for the long-term survival of the species in the wild.”

Sounds great. “Sustainability, legality and traceability” are the keywords. To trade an Appendix II listed species an export permit must be had.

The requirements for an export license are:

“Article IV (Appendix-II species). i) An export permit shall only be granted when … a Scientific Authority of the State of export has advised that such export will not be detrimental to the survival of that species;”

This is the “non-detriment finding” referred to by Villagomez. So a permit is not just a rubber stamp. It is the result of a scientific assessment and a management plan that ensures sustainability.

KerriLynn Miller, senior associate at Pew’s Global Shark Conservation, explains: “International trade in newly listed species—scalloped, smooth and great hammerheads, oceanic whitetip, porbeagle, and all manta rays—must be shown to be legal and sustainable.

With the implementation of the five shark species in Appendix II of Cites beginning September 14, 2014, any future export of fins from oceanic whitetip, porbeagle, scalloped, smooth and great hammerheads will require an export permit that shows the trade was sustainable and legal. In addition, the shark fins from the oceanic whitetip, porbeagle and scalloped, great and smooth hammerheads can be visually identified and many officials around the world, including in Hong Kong, have been trained in the visual identification to enforce the Cites listings.”

T&T has work to do to bring its shark fishery in line with international obligations. If it is found to trade Cites-protected species internationally, without the necessary permits, this can have serious economic implications for other users of Cites listed species.

How serious a problem can this be? One example is furniture makers who use mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla). Cites stipulates that when a country is found to be in violation of trade in one listed species, that countries’ trade in all listed species can be suspended. So, mad as it may sound to a cabinetmaker, the furniture industry can suffer from non-implementation of international obligations that fisheries have with Cites.

T&T is making some strides in shark conservation. The country recently announced an intention to ban shark finning, but it can’t stop there. Even if implemented, Cites regulations only apply to international trade. That will not prevent the hundreds, or thousands of endangered species hitting the markets each and every day.

The best solution is a shark sanctuary, like in the Bahamas, Honduras and the British Virgin Islands. More are being planned throughout the Caribbean. Failing a shark sanctuary, at a minimum, T&T must protect all endangered shark species, both through Cites and local laws.

 Marc De Verteuil lives in Port of Spain Trinidad. He is the director of Papa Bois Conservation.  This story originally published in the Trinidad & Tobago Guardian on Monday, September 22, 2014.


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