Commercial Sharks Still Circling Around Endangered Species
Fidelis E Satriastanti
No amount of scientific data will be able to protect endangered species unless countries have the political will to prioritize conservation over trade, environmentalists said following the disappointing CITES meeting in Doha last week.
The two-week meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora ended without agreement on new trade measures to protect four species of shark with great commercial value — the Scalloped Hammerhead, Oceanic Whitetip, Porbeagle and Spiny Dogfish.
These species failed to make it onto CITES Appendix II, a second-level protection list, after big importing countries such as Japan, China and Singapore, with the support of Indonesia, one of the biggest exporters, voted down the proposals, keeping the sharks on the market and on seafood restaurant menus.
Marine expert Suharsono, who was a member of the Indonesian delegation to the CITES conference, said there was no controversy over the country’s decision to support the shark trade. He said numerous outstanding issues still had to be resolved before putting the sharks on the list.
“From a scientific point of view, the Indonesian delegation considered that the proposals were not based on complete scientific data and information,” he said. “The data presented to us came only from northern seas and the Caribbean, not worldwide.”
Suharsono added that no scientific findings had been presented on whether shark hunting caused environmental damage.
“The submitters relied a great deal on data from [the UN Food and Agriculture Organization] that shark populations are declining, but to us that was not strong enough,” he said.
The Doha meeting accepted 24 proposals, rejected 10 and seven were withdrawn.
Indonesia voted for all the conservation proposals except for those on marine species.
Its decision to reject efforts to conserve the sharks was criticized by Imam Musthofa Zainudin, the fisheries program leader at WWF-Indonesia, who said delegates should have put more trust in the scientists.
“The government did not feel confident about support the proposals because we still don’t have any data or information on the country’s shark populations, unlike for tuna, so it thought it was better for sharks not to be included in CITES,” he said.
“But these are critical species and numerous foreign research studies have over the years collected enough data and information to support protecting them.”
Imam said blaming its inaction on incomplete scientific data or information was “too cliched.”
“Scientific data supports the fact that these sharks are predators of the seas. If something goes wrong with them then it will affect the whole food chain,” he said. “It comes down to political will, as we know Indonesia is being criticized for being too pro-exploitation rather than supporting conservation.”
For Richard Thomas, communications coordinator at TRAFFIC International, the scientific evidence is incontrovertible and overwhelming that all the shark species up for listing are in serious decline .
“The scientific data is available and it is clear; the species warrant listing,” Thomas said.
“I believe the decision not to list shark species was not in the best interests of conservation. Unless measures are taken to protect sharks, their stocks will collapse and several species will soon become commercially, if not biologically, extinct.”
TRAFFIC says FAO data shows that from 2000 to 2008, Indonesia became the world’s top shark-catching country, with a total of 109,248 tons.
Imam said Indonesia had acknowledged sharks were in a critical state and needed more protection when it established a national plan of action for sharks.
“We have had our own national action plan for five years,” he said.
Even though it is not mandatory, the plan stipulates Indonesia’s commitment to ensuring the shark population does not decline.
“Since it was implemented we should have been preparing, doing more research to support data on our shark populations,” Imam said. “We should be embarrassed complaining that there is not enough research on the proposals to save sharks while not doing our own comprehensive research.”
Suharsono agreed Indonesia’s action plan on sharks had been poorly implemented.
Meanwhile, Willem Wijnstekers, secretary general of CITES, whose secretariat is administered by the UN Environment Program, said the rejection of more listings at the meeting reflected a transitional process of adjusting existing management of fishery stocks toward something more robust and coherent.
“The Doha conference was an important step in the long journey toward the conservation of commercial marine species,” he said. “The quality of the debate and the simple majority reached on three sharks and the red and pink coral proposals sent a strong signal to the international community on the urgent need to stop overexploitation.
“The results do not reflect well the real impact of this meeting, which will only be seen and understood when other international regimes discuss the fate of bluefin tuna and sharks in the coming months.”