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Shark finning is an atrocious act that, despite a recent dip in popularity, continues to threaten dozens of species of endangered sharks in the name of shark fin soup — a traditionally aristocratic delicacy that has a newfound niche in China's emerging middle class. Fishermen, responding to demand, catch the sharks, cut off their fins, and toss the less valuable "meat" (that is, the still-living creature they just mutilated) back into the water, where the shark will subsequently die from blood loss or suffocation.
This outmoded tradition began as a way for the wealthy to show superiority over the apex predators of the ocean, and to impress their guests with barbaric prowess. Today, the slaughter continues in excess, despite humans' clear predatory superiority. Twenty-five percent of known shark species are now on the verge of extinction, which has interrupted the balance of countless oceanic ecosystems, and has had huge economic impacts.
Sharks play an important role in the maintenance of their habitats. When their numbers drop — as they have been, due to exploitation and slow recovery rates — a ripple effect can disrupt the populations of their prey, and their prey's prey, ultimately costing fisheries and the larger community a lot more than the few hundred dollars per shark market price. Incidentally, shark meat has virtually no taste, and may contain dangerous levels of mercury, making it unsafe to eat.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) treaty has been fighting to preserve sharks for decades, yet only offers protections for eight shark species — a mere fraction of those that are threatened with extinction from finning. Sign the petition asking CITES Secretary-General to ramp up efforts, and to expand the protective scope of CITES to include all threatened, vulnerable, endangered, and critically endangered sharks.
To the Secretary-General of CITES,
First, I would like to thank you for the work you do to protect sharks and other chondrichthyans from exploitation and illegal fishing. The CITES shark and manta ray conservation program has no doubt had a significant impact on countless marine ecosystems, and is an essential complement to regionally specific protection measures.
However, despite regulations and conservation efforts, shark finning continues to drive down populations for threatened and endangered sharks. A recent report from the IUCN Shark Specialist Group found that, due to exploitation and slow recovery rates, about one in four known species of sharks is either threatened, vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered — about 100 more species than you currently list for protection.
In March 2013, you added four shark species to the CITES Appendices — an important step to providing safeguards for the sharks that need them the most. You will recall, though, that protection measures were delayed for eighteen months to allow sufficient time for Parties to prepare for implementation. That's a nearly two-year wait to add protections for four species — meanwhile, one new species of shark is described every two or three weeks. For reproductively sluggish shark species, eighteen months could mean the difference between survival and untimely extinction.
That is why I would like to urge you to take action to immediately extend protections to all threatened, vulnerable, endangered, and critically endangered sharks.
CITES is the global authority on shark species protections, and an aggressive expansion of its conservation measures could have the cogency to resolve the current shark population crisis. With your help, we may be able to save these apex predators, and ultimately the entire oceanic ecosystem, before it's too late.