CITES conference ends with tighter trade controls for marine life


A 2-week conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Santiago, Chile concluded in mid-November after adopting decisions that promote wildlife conservation through various strategies involving strict protection, trade regulation and sustainable use.

“The key to global wildlife conservation in the 21st century will be to craft solutions that meet the specific requirements of each species and its specific circumstances, said Willem Wijnstekers, Secretary-General of CITES, whose secretariat is administered by the UN Environment Programme.

“CITES is well-placed to contribute to the conservation of a wide range of plants and animals through its rigorous system of trade permits and certificates, its ability to limit commercial trade when it proves detrimental to a species, and its support to national conservation and enforcement departments in developing countries,” he said.

A critical decision reached in the final hours of the meeting was to list the whale shark and the basking shark on Appendix II. This is widely considered a landmark agreement as CITES has not traditionally played an important role in global fisheries.

The whale shark is the largest fish in the world, measuring up to 20m in length and weighing up to 34 tonnes. The listing proposal cited the species’ declining numbers and the role of continued international trade in whale shark meat, fins, and liver oil. The basking shark is highly migratory and is hunted for its meat and fins. Large numbers are also caught and killed accidentally as by-catch.

Asian Turtles
The conference also added 26 species of Asian turtles to Appendix II. Many turtles from South, Southeast and East Asia are traded in significant quantities for regional food markets, Asian traditional medicines and international pet markets. Their numbers have been dwindling in recent years, and the newly listed species are vulnerable or endangered throughout their ranges. There is extensive evidence of illegal trade, but turtles are also harvested for subsistence consumption. Habitat loss is another major threat to their survival.

The trade in seahorses will also now be regulated for the first time. Seahorse populations seem to have declined dramatically over recent years owing to commercial trade, by-catch in fisheries, coastal development, destructive fishing practices and pollution. To meet the growing demand for traditional medicines, aquarium pets, souvenirs and curios, at least 20 million seahorses were captured annually from the wild in the early 1990s, and the trade is estimated to be growing by 8-10% per year. All 32 seahorse species will now be listed in Appendix II.

Bottlenose Dolphins
The meeting also agreed to set a zero quota for commercial trade in the Black Sea population of bottlenose dolphins, which was already listed on Appendix II. These dolphins have declined greatly in recent years due to hunting, pollution and other stresses.

The 12th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention was held from 4 – 15 November. It was attended by some 1,200 participants from 141 governments as well as numerous observer organisations. CoP13 will be held at the end of 2004 or in the first half of 2005 in Thailand.

For the complete story on the other species addressed during the conference, please click here.