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Great News for Bluefin Tuna and Sharks

by: Jill Richardson

Mon Dec 14, 2009 at 16:26:23 PM PST

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A UN FAO panel just found that sharks and Atlantic Bluefin Tuna need CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) protection. Hooray! This is step one of two to actually getting them CITES protection. What just happened is that an FAO panel of experts met and decided on a number of proposals for CITES protection. Step two will happen this coming March 13-25 in Doha, Qatar, where the CITES Parties will meet and decide on the proposals. Details below...
Jill Richardson :: Great News for Bluefin Tuna and Sharks
The FAO panel just reached a unanimous consensus that most of the sharks proposed should be listed as CITES Appendix II (which would regulate international trade). For Atlantic bluefin tuna, the news is even better. A majority of the panel decided there was sufficient evidence to recommend a CITES Appendix I listing (which would prohibit international trade altogether). Then again, I should qualify that statement. It's better in the sense that bluefins are potentially getting the protection they need. It's horrendous that their population has plummeted to levels such that they need that protection.

Here are some specifics on each from Pew Environment Group:

Proposal 28, Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus)

The majority of the panel agreed that the available evidence supports the proposal to include the Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) in CITES Appendix I, which would prohibit all international commercial trade. There was consensus that the evidence available supports the inclusion of Atlantic bluefin tuna on Appendix II.  According to the report, "if the estimated pre-exploitation spawning biomasses (B0) are used for this baseline, both populations of Atlantic bluefin tuna are below this 15% threshold and meet the decline criterion for listing on Appendix I." The CITES criteria, however, do insist on going back as far as possible-which would mean using the estimated pre-exploitation spawning biomasses (B0).

Proposal 30, Porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus)

The panel found that porbeagles in the northeast Atlantic Ocean were considered to meet the Appendix II decline criterion, with no evidence that the population has started to recover despite past attempts at managing the fishery.  The porbeagle's population in the northwest Atlantic also meets the Appendix II decline criterion, although the population is currently recovering. Although no stock assessment was performed in the Mediterranean, the tuna trap catch data for porbeagle indicate that this population also meets the Appendix II decline criterion.  Overall, the panel reached consensus that porbeagles did qualify for an Appendix II listing, a reversal from its deliberations in 2007.

Proposal 31, Scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) and the look-alike species, Great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran), Smooth hammerhead shark (Sphyrna zygaena), Sandbar shark (Carcharhincus plumbeus) and Dusky shark (Carcharhincus obscurus)

The panel reached consensus that the available evidence of population declines supported an Appendix II listing for the scalloped hammerhead along with the great hammerhead and smooth hammerhead as look-alike species.  The panel noted that in Hong Kong (the primary market for shark fins), scalloped and smooth hammerhead fins are not sold separately, and that from a visual standpoint the scalloped and great hammerhead fins are quite similar.  However, the panel did not find that products (primarily fins) from sandbar and dusky sharks sufficiently resemble those of the Scalloped hammerheads (the panel did not appear to include population data in making this determination-both sharks have been hit hard by overfishing).

Proposal 32, Oceanic whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus)

The Panel concluded that the oceanic whitetip shark was a "low productivity species" and that there is "a paucity of quantitative data with which to determine global trends."  Population data in the northwest Atlantic and central and eastern Pacific showed substantial declines, but for other locations the data is "very limited and difficult to interpret." The panel also noted the enormous impact of the fin market on this species, which is generally not targeted by fisheries but taken as bycatch.

Proposal 29, Spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthia)

The panel agreed that this was a species of low productivity and that the historically-fished population of spiny dogfish in the Mediterranean and the large population in the northeast Atlantic Ocean are considered to meet the extent of decline criterion for inclusion in CITES Appendix II.  The panel also noted that inadequate management in many areas of distribution of these species represents a cause for "serious concern."  It urged that these shortcomings be remedied by relevant fishing nations and regional organizations in order to prevent rates of exploitation for these animals from exceeding acceptable levels. However, from a global perspective the panel did not agree that the Spiny dogfish meets the criteria required by CITES for listing on Appendix II.

Overall, the findings of the FAO's expert panel reflect the Pew Environment Group's position that international trade of these vulnerable and threatened species needs to be restricted or prohibited until the populations recover. In particular, we appreciate the outcomes from the FAO panel as they relate to the bluefin tuna and the majority of the shark species. As for the bluefin tuna, this is the first time a commercially exploited fish species has been proposed for CITES Appendix I and the outcome clearly shows that the species qualifies for Appendix I.  The FAO's release can be found at

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