Saving devil rays from the international gill plate trade
Devil rays get their name from the fins on either side of their head (known as cephalic fins) which curve upward, giving the ray the appearance of having horns. But don’t be mistaken – devil rays are actually quite shy, and tend to avoid interaction with humans. Although devil rays are smaller than manta rays, they can still grow to between 3-12 feet from wingtip to wingtip. They are known for their incredible acrobatics, sometimes referred to as “flying,” but these antics can include jumps, twists and bellyflops as well!
Unfortunately, devil rays are harvested by the thousands for their gill plates – the part of the body they use to filter food from the water. The devastating impacts of the international trade in this product has led 23 countries to propose listing all nine species of devil ray under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES) at the upcoming conference of the Parties.
Trade in Gill Plates
The international trade in devil ray gill plates has been on the rise due to an increase in demand for these items. Gill plates are highly valued, particularly in China where they can sell for up to $250 per pound. The gill plates are often used in traditional medicines, but have no proven scientific benefits. It is likely that, in addition to fishermen in Southeast Asia, fishermen in South America, Europe, African and the Middle East are also catching devil rays.
Certain species of devil rays are caught specifically for their gill plates. In fact, some fisheries that used to catch devil rays only by accident have converted into fisheries that directly target these species due to their commercial value. But once the gill plates have been removed from the animals, it is incredibly difficult to tell which species it came from. To truly stem this trade and put a stop to the immense damage it is causing to devil rays, we need to protect all of the species equally.
In just three years, the numbers of devil ray gill plates on the market have tripled. Unregulated trade will only continue to drive the populations down. These species are in desperate need of international trade regulation. By listing them under CITES, we can get them those much needed protections, and make sure that if trade continues, it is sustainable. Defenders is proud that the United States is one of the countries co-sponsoring such an important proposal at CITES. Our team has been working hard to garner support and enthusiasm for this proposal, and we hope to see it succeed. Keep your fins crossed for devil rays!
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