It's called the Convention on International TRADE in Endangered SPECIES. Not endangered land mammals, or plants, but SPECIES. (Although see this hilarious facebook page, courtesy of the End of the Line film, on new names for CITES. My nonsensical favourite is 'Couldn't Issue Tickets to an Elderly Salmon). The Convention text boasts no less than 3 specific mentions to marine species, so despite all we've heard/seen/rolled our eyes about over the past two weeks, marine species, especially those exploited for the international trade, can and should be listed under CITES. Let's not forget that there are already 100 or so marine species already on there. And yes, for those of you not living/breathing CITES, I know this is all quite nerdy, but to suggest marine species shouldn't be under CITES are fightin' words for those that have worked hard to bring these proposals here, and who believe in the effectiveness of this Convention for important conservation and socioeconomic gains.
For more on this subject, I'm turning it over to Dr. Doukakis:
Exploitation of fisheries is often driven by international demand. This is quite evident with bluefin tuna, as 80% of the Atlantic bluefin tuna caught is sent straight to Japan (think this has anything to do with their vociferous rebuttal of Monaco’s proposal to ban all international trade in this valuable fish?). Trade regulation therefore can have a positive effect on fisheries and marine conservation by controlling market availability, and DOES NOT always mean a trade ban. Instead, it allows an additional way for us to manage our marine environments. A CITES listing DOES NOT replace fisheries management.
Time and again at this meeting, we have heard that we need to “let ICCAT do its job” (bluefin) and “let GFCM (the General Fisheries Commission of the Mediterranean) manage precious coral in the Mediterranean.” Both of these bodies have failed to sustainably manage these resources. CITES can COMPLEMENT both bodies. And if the management is lacking, if trade is proven to be having an adverse impact on these species in question, a mechanism exists to limit or stop trade.
How would we otherwise detect illegal trade in fisheries products if we don’t have species listed under CITES? Say, hypothetically, only 20,000 fins from the Appendix II-listed porbeagle shark were permitted to be sustainably taken and traded (because any more than that would have hurt the population). But through CITES monitoring, it was found that 40,000 fins were being traded. We would know that the porbeagle's luck might be running out and that its fisheries should be more closely monitored and management revised to address a clear lack of compliance.
Marine species may be much more widespread and may have much higher population numbers as compared to some of the terrestrial species we usually hear about at CITES. Millions of fish may seem like a lot if the bigger picture of decline is not taken into account. And we may not have many examples of marine extinction. Are we really so thick as to think that just because marine species exist in the ocean rather on land that we will not see the same extinction as we have seen on land? Fossil record, anyone?
The sharks that are up for listing have all the right CITES bells and whistles – they meet the biological criteria, their exploitation is driven by trade, there is potential for overexploitation that would drive the populations to be listed under Appendix I, there are tools to manage the trade (see this excellent fact sheet by the Pew Environment Group for more on this). So far, the porbeagle shark has managed to sneak on (editor's note: I would argue that's because it's more often caught for its meat than for its fins, meaning that Asia has less of an interest and the lobbying against this species was less intense).
If this CITES CoP closes without listing any other marine species that clearly warrant listing, it will be a triumph of commercial interests over biological evidence. The international community must address the issues raised at this meeting so this does not happen at CoP16.
Photo: Shannon Crownover, Marine Photobank