Examining new proposed regulations to help protect thresher and silky shark species from the devastating impacts of international trade
Three years ago, at the 16th Conferences of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), we celebrated a huge win for sharks. Following more than a decade of work, five shark species were listed under CITES, putting much-needed regulations in place on the international trade of these species, including their parts and products. This year, we are gearing up for the next Conference of the Parties where a large number of species will be considered for listing, including four more species of our finned friends!
Thresher sharks are migratory pelagic sharks, meaning they spend most of their lives on the move, far out at sea. They are easy to recognize because all species of thresher sharks have one particular physical trait – a very long tail fin known as the upper caudal lobe.
There are three species of thresher sharks: bigeye, common and pelagic. Generally speaking, bigeye threshers are the largest of the three, and pelagic threshers are the smallest.
There are a number of threats facing thresher sharks, but the main reason they are up for listing consideration this fall is that all three species are under extreme pressure from overharvesting for international trade. Bigeye threshers are particularly coveted for their fins, while common threshers are taken for their meat. Other products, including skin, oil, cartilage and teeth, are also found on the international market. Because it can be so hard to tell the species apart from each other (particularly once they are processed into fins or meat), the entire genus of thresher sharks has been proposed for listing under CITES Appendix II this fall.
Of almost all pelagic sharks, the thresher shark family is at the highest risk of extinction. The bigeye thresher in particular has one of the slowest reproductive rates out of any shark species, making it incredibly vulnerable to any level of population decline. These sharks are quickly losing the battle against over-exploitation, and they desperately need international regulations under CITES.
Silky sharks get their name from their incredibly smooth skin. They are found worldwide deep in the ocean and along the coasts. One of the coolest things about silky sharks is that they are the fourth fastest shark in the world! They can swim almost 40 miles a day.
Silky sharks are specifically targeted by fishermen for their distinctive fins – identifiable by their specific shape and light grey colors. In fact, this shark is one of the top three species in demand in the global fin trade, with up to 1.5 million fins bought and sold each year from this species alone! And even though the population of silky shark is declining, the number of their fins found in international trade is only going up. Because of this increasing threat, silky sharks have been proposed for listing under CITES Appendix II, in the hopes of making the trade sustainable, instead of threatening the species’ survival.
The Next Steps – International Protection
Between now and the CITES meeting in September, we are continuing our work to gather support for these proposals. Some 27 countries including Brazil, Bahamas, Panama, and the Dominican Republic have officially co-sponsored one or both of these important shark proposals, but there is still a lot of work to do. To have the proposals adopted, we will need two-thirds of the 182 CITES member countries to support the proposals. So keep your fins crossed for sharks and stay tuned in September!