International Conventions and Agreements Involving Sharks
Sharks are migratory species found in oceans around the world. National laws to protect sharks do help, but they apply only to a country’s jurisdictional waters and not to the high seas. To stop rapid declines in shark populations, countries will have to work together to create regional and international laws to protect all sharks wherever they may swim.
Indeed, the number of international treaties, conventions and other agreements addressing shark conservation issues is growing as concern about shark finning and shark depletion increases.
Shark finning, the practice of cutting the fins off a shark and throwing the rest of the animal overboard to die, is addressed by many of these agreements. However total bans on removing shark fins at sea have not yet been implemented by any of them. There are also very few regional management plans for limiting the number of sharks that can be killed in order to protect shark populations.
United Nations and the FAO
In 1999, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) adopted an International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks. The FAO asked all shark-fishing nations to develop national plans of action for shark conservation, but ten years later most of them still have not done so.
The United Nations General Assembly called on nations to ban the targeting of sharks for their fins in its annual Sustainable Fisheries Resolution in 2004. In December 2007, the General Assembly strengthened this language by urging countries to consider a finning ban that requires the retention of the whole shark with fins naturally attached.
In November 2004, the IUCN – a global environmental network comprised of more than 1,000 governmental and non-governmental organizations from more than 160 countries – adopted a recommendation urging all states to ban shark finning and when possible to require shark fins to be brought to shore attached to their bodies.
At their next meeting in 2008, the IUCN adopted an even stronger recommendation calling on states to ban shark finning by requiring that sharks are brought to land with fins still attached.
Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMO)
In November 2004, the member countries of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) adopted, by consensus, a recommendation on shark finning, based on a proposal led by the United States which recommended that, upon arrival at port, the shark fins offloaded by a fishing vessel should weigh no more than 5% of the weight of the shark carcasses. This “weight ratio” test was believed to be a reliable way of establishing whether or not any sharks had been finned and discarded by the crew.
Many of the other Regional Fisheries Management Organizations including the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the West and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) followed ICCAT’s lead and adopted similar language soon after. While these recommendations are often referred to as “bans” on finning, and that was indeed their intention, the reality is that they provide a loophole whereby fishers can still fin a proportion of the sharks they catch.
At the annual ICCAT meeting in November 2009, Panama led a proposal to require that sharks be landed with their fins attached. Although the proposal was supported by many other member countries, it was not adopted by the full Commission.
CITES – International Trade
In November 2002, delegates to the 12th Conference of the Parties (CoP) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) listed whale sharks and basking sharks on Appendix II, requiring export permits for any international trade in these species. CITES protection for sharks was first considered in 1994, but it was not until 2002 that shark protection proposals gained enough pro-conservation votes.
In October 2004 at CoP13, CITES member countries approved a proposal from Australia and Madagascar to add the great white shark to Appendix II. Furthermore, the CITES Animals Committee resolved to examine other shark species that may benefit from CITES protection.
In 2007 at CoP14, the European Union proposed adding spiny dogfish and porbeagle sharks to CITES Appendix II, but unfortunately they failed to receive enough votes.. The EU has submitted proposals for these two species again for consideration at CoP15, which will be held in March 2010. In addition, the United States is proposing Appendix II listings for six species of shark including hammerheads and oceanic whitetips. A two-thirds majority is needed in order for these proposals to succeed.
The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) was created for countries to coordinate efforts to conserve highly migratory species that cross national boundaries.
There are seven species of shark listed on CMS Appendix II – spiny dogfish, great white, basking, whale, shortfin mako, longfin mako and, porbeagle sharks.
Member countries of CMS are also working to establish a global conservation agreement for sharks, which will be established under a Memorandum of Understanding ( MoU) which would create multi-national plans of action for international conservation measures for sharks. However, MOUs are not legally binding and some conservationists fear that most of the provisions of the action plan will not be implemented.
How You Can Help
Please contact your government officials such as the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Fisheries to talk to them about sharks and ask them to propose and support stronger shark protection measures when they attend regional and international meetings.