MANILA, The Philippines -- A landmark agreement to protect shark species threatened with extinction was reached today by over 100 countries signed up to a United Nations-supported wildlife treaty, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
The 113 countries that are party to the UNEP-administered Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) agreed to prohibit the hunting, fishing and deliberate of killing sharks species covered in an appendix to the CMS – the great white, basking, whale, porbeagle, spiny dogfish, shortfin and longfin mako sharks.
“This first global CMS instrument on commercially exploited species is a decisive step forward in international shark conservation,” said UNEP/CMS Executive Secretary Elizabeth Mrema.
“Wildlife conventions, UN agencies and international fisheries need to work together to prevent these creatures that roam the world’s oceans from becoming extinct,” added Ms. Mrema.
The CMS agreement, concluded at a gathering of government representatives in the Philippines, aims to restore the long-term viability of populations of migratory sharks, which are also set to benefit from greater enforcement of existing laws on illegal fishing and trade.
UNEP noted that over-fishing, fisheries by-catch, illegal trade, habitat destruction, depletion of prey species, pollution with a high risk of mercury intoxication, boat strikes and the impact of climate change on the marine environment all seriously threaten sharks.
Gestation periods of up to 22 months, a life expectancy of up to 100 years, relatively low reproductive rates, migratory patterns, and low natural mortality combine to make the protection of some species and their habitat difficult and make sharks particularly vulnerable with little chance to recover if over-fished.
In addition, whale shark meat has been increasingly considered as a high-grade, exotic product since the late 1980s, and according to TRAFFIC – a wildlife trade monitoring network – prices have skyrocketed to $7,000 for 2,000 kilograms in Taiwan, for example.
According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), up to 900,000 tons of sharks have been caught every year for the last two decades, and calculating for illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing and missing data, the actual catch figure is estimated to be at least twice as high.
Studies show that shark populations collapsed in both in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Mediterranean Sea by 90 per cent, and by 75 per cent in the north-western Atlantic Ocean within 15 years, said UNEP.
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