Ocean Conservation Smackdown at CITES

The Tidewater meeting went well and I’ll have a recap of that soon, but I decided the results of the latest CITES (U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) vote should be commented on first.  Read on to see just how trying it can be to be an ocean conservationist.

Southern Fried Science and Deep Sea News have been covering this pretty well, and this particular CITES vote has had my attention because spiny dogfish were one of many shark species up for inclusion in Appendix II.  Appendix II is the listing for species that endangered enough to call for significant restrictions on international trade. Aside from dogfish, porbeagles, three species of hammerheads (smooth, scalloped, and great), dusky sharks, sandbar sharks, and oceanic whitetips were up for listing.  Also of particular not for fisheries scientists and ocean conservationists were bluefin tuna and polar bears.

Spiny dogfish caught my attention because 1.) they’re my study animal, and 2.) the ongoing controversy over their endangered status in the U.S.  Listing on Appendix II for this species would be undoubtedly good for the sharks (particularly the nearly fished-out European stocks), but potentially devastating for U.S. fishermen landing dogfish.  The main reason a fishery exists for spiny dogfish is for export to Europe for use in fish and chips.  If international trade is restricted, unless spontaneously a market develops for them in the U.S. the dogfish fishery will be effectively shut down.  I can only imagine what local fishermen would have to say about that.

Judging from the track record of listing species so far, they may not have to worry about it.  First came the news that a non-binding resolution related to shark conservation was rejected following a tough stand by China, Japan, and Russia, who managed to rally several developing nations around them.  This resolution simply called for increased transparency in shark trade, and its rejection doesn’t bode well for those shark species awaiting Appendix II listing.

Next came the news that the proposal to list bluefin tuna was rejected by a shockingly wide margin.  Also noteworthy in that story is the failure to list polar bears.  The fact that two species that have been the subject of so much international concern could get smacked down so handily demonstrates that, for whatever reason, the U.N. seems to be an especially hostile environment to conservation right now.

David at Southern Fried Science has linked to this editorial by Edward Dorson, director of Conservation Strategies at the Shark Research Institute.  Dorson sums it up pretty well, and hopefully CITES will see reason (and actually start doing its job) before the voting is over.  Spiny dogfish may be a controversial listing, but the other sharks species up for inclusion are certainly deserving.

Stay tuned.  It could get ugly.