Sharks and manta rays are now to receive more protection from the group CITES, or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna. The protective mandate comes straight from the United Nations as of Mar. 13, 2013 but the execution of the mandate had been delayed from going into effect until now, due to technical and administrative reasons.
There are five species of shark that will now be protected from unregulated fishing and trading, while all manta rays are included under the mandate. Sharks and manta rays have, according to David Morgan of CITES Scientific Services, been victims of over-fishing, and some shark species have even become locally extinct in some places. The scalloped heammerhead, for example, is almost gone in the Mediterranean Sea, with a decline in population of 99.99 percent. Morgan reported a decline of 80 percent for some other species of shark. Regarding the large decline in sharks, Morgan stated “[the sharks] need time and space to recover” and that reduction of “fishing pressures” is vital to the species’ recuperation.
Shark-fin soup is a delicacy at banquets and weddings in parts of Asia, and shark meat even sometimes makes its way into fish and chips in Europe. In addition to their meat and fins, sharks are also killed for leather, cartilage, and liver oil. In southern China, manta rays’ gill plates are used for health purposes, though conservationists believe the human intake of these gill plates may actually be harmful to the body. Profits, Morgan says, are “huge” in the unregulated selling of these underwater creatures. The motive to make large profits off these aquatic animals has lead to a harmful effect on the shark and manta ray populations.
Five species of shark will be protected under the new mandate: the porbeagle shark, the scalloped hammerhead shark, the great hammerhead shark, the oceanic whitetip shark, and the smooth hammerhead shark. All manta rays are also under the protection of the mandate. The international trade of these sharks and manta rays will not be banned, but as of Sunday, Sept. 14, certificates and permits will be required to fish and trade in sharks and manta rays.
Sharks are large predatory fish that are vital to Earth’s oceans, as they eat the smaller fish species and help to keep balance in their local ecosystems. Manta rays, like sharks, are also fish, but are “flattened” in their shape; the mantas are the close relatives of sharks. Unlike sharks, manta rays are very docile in nature and present little threat to human beings. Though they are predators, they do not prey on fish, but instead eat smaller life, such as plankton. Though manta rays are not endangered, they are considered “near threatened” because of human activities in the oceans.
Sharks and manta rays are now more protected from the over-fishing and unregulated trade that has threatened their population numbers. With these new regulations, their populations have a chance to recover and improve, which will affect not only the individual species but will be a benefit to Earth’s oceans as well.
By Jillian Moyet