Shark fin win: Panama wildlife agreement could be beginning of the end for trade

More than 50 species of sharks now under protection after fiery debate

Tiger sharks caught by fishermen at Banda Aceh seaport in Indonesia. New directives to restrict shark-fin trafficking will protect requiem sharks, which include tiger sharks. AFP
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More than 50 species of shark will be protected under expanded trade regulations designed to halt the sale of shark meat and fins, a global convention on the trade of endangered species agreed on Thursday.

The motion passed with 88 votes in favour, 29 against and 17 abstentions in a secret ballot after more than two hours of heated debate at the 19th conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), taking place in Panama City.

The plan, which covers 19 species that are already endangered or critically endangered, marks a first regulatory action for the global trade of requiem sharks, primarily fished for their fins used in shark-fin soup ― a delicacy in Asian markets.

Marine biologists estimate that upwards of 100 million sharks are killed each year, pushing vital apex predators towards extinction and ocean ecosystems to the brink of collapse.

The fins are usually sliced from their bodies and the animals thrown back into the sea where they suffer a slow death.

Luke Warwick, associate director at the Wildlife Conservation Society's shark and rays programme, called the decision historic, and said it would improve sustainable trade, traceability and combat trafficking.

"Before this decision about 25 per cent of sharks subject to the fin trade were protected," he told Reuters. "With this about 70 per cent of sharks will be protected and countries will have to take measures for proper management."

Countries will have 12 months to prepare for the change.

Shark fins, which represent a market of about $500 million a year, can sell for about $1,000 a kilogram in East Asia for use in shark-fin soup, a regional delicacy.

The requiem shark family includes species such as the tiger shark, silky shark and grey reef shark.

During the debate, Japan pushed to include just 19 of the most endangered species, and Peru sought to exclude the blue shark. Both proposals were rejected.

A European Union-led proposal to protect hammerhead sharks was also unanimously approved during the meeting.

Updated: November 18, 2022, 11:12 AM