Earlier this year, at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Defenders worked hard to establish new international regulations on the shark trade, hoping to put a stop to the rapid rate at which many shark species are declining. Thankfully, we were successful! New regulations were put in place for three species of hammerhead sharks, as well as porbeagle and oceanic whitetip sharks. The listings go into effect in September of 2014. Until then, we’re hard at work on the next step: How to help officials and other representatives from countries around the world put these regulations into practice. We’re focusing especially on countries in Latin American and the Caribbean, since they have shown the most interest in actively working to protect sharks and enact these new regulations.
In early December, I traveled to the city of Recife, Brazil, to represent Defenders of Wildlife at an international workshop on shark identification that we helped organize. It was a joint effort with many other parties, including the governments of Brazil, the United States, the CITES Secretariat, Teyeliz, Humane Society International, Species Survival Network and the Organization of American States. More than 70 representatives from 28 countries (including CITES representatives and officials from various nations’ fishery agencies) participated in the workshop, and many more will benefit from the materials and other work that went into it. Every presentation was streamed live, and all the materials are now available online , allowing even more representatives to benefit even if they couldn’t attend in person.
The workshop offered information on a variety of topics including:
- Improving the accuracy of shark catch data to comply with Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMO) recommendations
- Learning to correctly identify shark species and their fins
- Developing a chain of custody to facilitate making legal acquisition findings for exports of sharks listed in CITES Appendices.
For a long time, one of the main arguments of those who have opposed any regulation on the shark fin trade has been that it is just too hard to tell which species of shark is which based on the fin alone, and that it would be unjust to regulate something that people couldn’t identify. We put the final nail in the coffin of that outdated and completely false excuse during the more hands-on part of the workshop. We taught participants how to use several different methods to identify shark species, including the shark identification guides we created, as well as fin identification guides, DNA testing, and a software program for sharks and fins identification that the Food and Agriculture Organization is testing.
During the workshop’s second session, we divided the participants into regional groups (South Atlantic, South Pacific, Caribbean, and Central America) so that they could get information and ask questions specific to their region. They heard directly from the CITES Secretariat, as well as from government officials who already have experience preparing chain of custodies for marine species (an important part of these new regulations), as well as developing legal acquisition findings. Each group came away with a better idea of what they will need to implement the new regulations from the CITES shark listings.
The workshop also provided the participants with an important chance to connect with one another. As the communications network grows between officials in these countries, they’ll be better able to talk to one another to get advice on how to implement these new regulations, and discuss what methods and techniques have worked best for them.
All in all, the workshop was a great success! Now these officials have all returned to their various countries to teach their own colleagues about what they learned, and, where needed, start to reforming their practices. Soon, we hope to see the waters in this region become much safer for sharks, giving these ancient predators and the ocean life that rely on them a more secure future.
Alejandra Goyenechea, International Counsel