By Kerry Stansfield

Many of us refer to CITES as the benchmark against which we measure the importance of an animal or plant. We use their regulations to assess what is endangered and what is not because it is there that they regulate trade, whether global or domestic.

Many conservationists however, recognise the difficulty faced in getting an animal or plant certified by CITES due to the many economic and political ties that the Convention is connected to.

This month we’d like to bring your attention to an article released after the recent CITES meeting. The full article can be found under the title: ‘Sharks defeated at UN Wildlife Trade Talks’. It is written by Anne Mudeva (released through Reuters):

A United Nations forum on endangered species rejected bids on Friday to put in place controls on the multi-million dollar trade in two types of sharks, highly prized for their meat and fins. The spiny dogfish, also known as rock salmon, and the porbeagle shark failed to get protection from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Conservationists slammed the decision, saying today’s rejection highlighted the strength of commercial interests over wildlife protection. “The failure to list spiny dogfish and porbeagle (on CITES) is a shameful triumph of politics over conservation,” said Cliona O’Brien of environmental group WWF. “We needed action, not procrastination.”

“This is a profound disappointment,” said Carroll Muffett, deputy campaign director at Greenpeace. “Today is the Ocean Day and the CITES parties decided to celebrate it by rejecting protection for two sharks.”

Germany, acting on behalf of the European Union, had asked the 171-nation CITES pact to list the spiny dogfish and the porbeagle shark on Appendix II which regulates trades in threatened animals and plants.

The EU and the United States argued the two shark species had seen a substantial population decline in parts of the world and that regional fishery bodies had failed to manage stocks properly. The shark proposals received over half of the votes at the June 3-15 CITES meeting in The Hague but fell short of winning the two-thirds majority needed for a listing.

Fishing nations such as Japan, Norway, Korea, China and some South American countries opposed CITES protection for the sharks, saying the convention was not the right place to manage commercial fisheries. They were backed by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which recognized a significant population decline in some regions but said globally the sharks did not meet the biological decline criteria for listing on Appendix II.

Unsustainable fishing has led to a 95 percent decline in the spiny dogfish population in the North Atlantic in the last 10 years, WWF said. The porbeagle population plunged by 89 percent in that region in the last 40 years. It is estimated that nearly half of marine fish stocks are fully exploited and 18 percent are overexploited, CITES says, as global fish exports reached a record of $71.5 billion in 2004.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is the world’s most authoritative guide to the status of biological diversity. Perhaps we should refer to this extensive database and scientific research to determine which of Earth’s animals need protection.