by Gareth Hughes
Over the past couple of weeks, the parties of the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species or better known as CITES have been meeting in Bangkok to discuss the worlds endangered species.
On the agenda were a number of proposals relating to elevation of the endangered status for some species of sharks. In fantastic news trade in the oceanic whitetip, three species of hammerhead, and the porbeagle will all be subject to increasingly stringent restrictions on their trade.
Over 90 countries agreed that these species all need far greater protections, and that the fringe interests of the shark finning industry weren’t sufficient to prevent efforts to save them. Good on New Zealand for supporting.
This is huge, especially as New Zealand has one of the highest porbeagle catch rates in the world.
Life is hard for the porbeagle. Populations around the world have declined between 66-99% in various regions. They’re not a pretty shark. They’re not quite as sleek and efficient as a blue shark, nor possessing the sheer indomitable size and terror of the great white. Instead, they are a bit dumpy, have large, Disney-esque eyes, and have an awkward smile. They really can’t sustain their current catch levels; they have a similar lifespan (65 years), similar age to reach maturity (around 18 years), similar gestation period (9 months) to humans, and give birth to only around 4 pups over their lifetime. This biological disadvantage means that it’s really exciting that New Zealand got behind them to support their enhanced protection too.
Could this be the start of a broader change of heart for New Zealand’s sharks? I’ve long voiced concerns over our shark management plans, and called for greater protection domestically from the wasteful practice of shark finning. With this vote for international support for a highly migratory species, I’m hoping that the current review of our domestic plans finally catches us up to the rest of the world in shark protection measures.
We have an excellent chance to do the right thing this year. Our current NPOA (National Plan of Action (Sharks) – our shark conservation strategy) is being reviewed for the first time since its implementation, and indications so far are that the approach that the Ministry of Primary Industries is taking is more scientifically informed, consultative, and environmentally sound than the process used to draft the first NPOA. This is the best way to stop shark finning, a practice most countries have already banned.
I’m optimistic the time has come. All parties except National, a political majority, demonstrated their support for increased shark protection measures at an event hosted by the New Zealand Shark Alliance, late last year. Public support, at home and internationally, is firmly behind stopping wasteful finning.
It’s been a good week for sharks, and we have the chance to make it a good year if we stop shark finning.