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Countries vote to protect endangered mako sharks

August 25, 2019

Mako sharks have practically disappeared from the Mediterranean, and their numbers have plunged in other seas, too. Japan and China opposed a global initiative to save them from extinction but most countries endorsed it.

Mako shark swimming in Atlantic
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Potenski

Delegates from 120 countries on Sunday adopted a proposal to protect 18 threatened species of sharks and rays, including makos, at the CITES global wildlife trade summit in Geneva, Switzerland.

The species will be listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix II if the preliminary decision is endorsed.

Read more: 5 things you need to know about CITES 18

Makos, the fastest shark species, are rapidly disappearing from the Mediterranean Sea, and their population is dropping in the Atlantic, Northern Pacific and Indian Oceans, too. They are often targeted for their meat and fins, which are used notably in shark fin soup — a popular dish in Asian countries, particularly China.

"These two species, the 'cheetahs of the ocean', play key roles as top predators in the world's high seas, and are highly valued for their meat, along with their fins, and are caught in huge numbers globally in commercial and recreational fisheries," Luke Warwick of the Wildlife Conservation Society said in a statement.

The deadly Mediterranean

Mexico presented a proposal to list makos under CITES Appendix II, which means they cannot be traded unless it can be shown that fishing them won't threaten their survival.

"Fishing is the main threat being faced by sharks," said a delegate from the European Union, which backed the proposal. "We need much stronger measures" than national initiatives to prevent overfishing, he said during a heated debate in Geneva.

Japan and China opposed the proposal, arguing there was insufficient scientific data to prove that mako populations are declining as a result of trade in them.

Read more: Japanese fleet restarts commercial whaling

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said in March that 17 species of rays and sharks faced extinction.

'Global momentum'

The other threatened species include the wedgefish — a shark relative — and the giant guitarfish, the most threatened marine fish in the world.

"(Their) fins are the most expensive in international markets, where they are prized for use in shark fin soup," said Warwick.

Where have the sharks in the Adriatic gone?

Megan O'Toole of the International Fund for the Protection of Animals (IFAW) said, "There is a real global momentum to save these species."

CITES can impose sanctions on countries that violate its rules.

"Today's listing reflects the realization that uncontrolled trade will decimate shark populations," said Elizabeth Murdock of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

For the first time, three species of sea cucumber — also hunted in Asia — were also listed in Appendix II, with a 12-month deadline for implementation.

WWF's Colman O'Criodain hailed the decision, saying the sea cucumbers, which are threatened by overfishing, play a crucial role in the health of ecosystems.

Over 100 countries also voted to ban trade in the smooth-coated otter, placing it on the CITES list.

Read more: World's forest animal population sinks drastically: WWF report

shs/  (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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