COP13: Protection granted to critically endangered whitetip shark species on brink of extinction

Washington, USA: There was a vital conservation win for a critically endangered species of shark this week at the 13th Conference of the Parties (COP13) of the UN Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) of Wild Animals in Gandhinagar as governments accepted the proposal to list the oceanic whitetip shark for protection. Once considered one of the most common tropical sharks in the world, the oceanic whitetip is now one of the most endangered.

Attending government representatives from the 130 member parties to CMS COP13 accepted by consensus Brazil’s proposal to list the oceanic whitetip shark on Appendix I of CMS – the highest level of protection possible – to prohibit catch of the species throughout its range.

Megan O’Toole, Senior Programme Manager of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), International Policy, welcomed the decision, saying, “We are very pleased to see an Appendix I listing awarded to the oceanic whitetip shark. Decades of unmanaged overfishing, driven by international demand for shark fin soup, has caused the population to be decimated throughout its range. With its IUCN Red List status updated last December to Critically Endangered, and losses averaging a shocking 98% to 100% worldwide, governments at this meeting clearly recognised the urgent need for better global protection.”

In other efforts to address the severe population declines of these apex predators, which play a crucial role in marine ecosystems, all major Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) prohibit the catch and retention of oceanic whitetips in their waters. In addition, the species was listed in Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) in 2013.

Although it can’t be legally caught or retained by most regional fisheries management organisations it may still go extinct – if governments across the world fail to fully implement these regulations.  

O’Toole added, “An Appendix I listing is designed to bolster existing protections and highlight the continued catch and decline of this species. IFAW believes this listing for oceanic whitetip sharks will strengthen the measures already put in place to protect them and also may fill in current management gaps and add an additional legal obligation for domestic protection.”

A CMS Appendix I listing, however, is just the first step to save species whose populations are as endangered as the oceanic whitetip. Currently, only 28% of COP13 Parties have fully implemented protections for other Appendix I-listed sharks. As a crucial safeguarding agreement for endangered migratory shark species, global implementation of this legally binding agreement is critical to prevent further risk of extinction. IFAW and partner NGOs discussed this issue with CMS Parties at COP13, offering capacity and technical support to governments looking to manage effectively CMS-listed sharks.

The future of many other migratory species will be affected by decisions taken at this meeting, which began on Monday and is scheduled to run until Saturday, 22 February. Other key species also listed for protection include the Asian elephant and the jaguar.

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The ID Staff

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