Saving Sharks in Peru

Defenders of Wildlife Co-Leads Capacity-Building Shark ID Workshops with Peruvian Government Agencies to Improve Implementation of CITES Regulations

After three flights, one natural disaster, and a 4-hour drive down a road accentuated by all sorts of treacherous terrain, the intrepid Defenders of Wildlife team had finally arrived in Peru to kick off a two-week endeavor to increase awareness about shark finning.

Defenders partnered with Humane Society International to hold three two-day workshops under the umbrella of, “Strengthening Capacities for the Identification of Sharks,” spanning from June 26-July 8.  The purpose of these workshops was to engage with those members of the Peruvian government whose responsibility it is to ensure compliance with the international trade requirements of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and to help these individuals better recognize the morphological differences and regulatory nuances between species of sharks and their fins.

CITES, one of the largest environmental agreements regulating the international trade in wildlife, requires permits for any species listed under one of its three appendices, making it critical for government agencies to be able to properly identify subtle differences between species in order to properly implement the treaty. If those agencies implementing CITES are ill-equipped to identify different species and the trade requirements thereof, they risk inadvertently permitting trade without the required scientific and legal analysis by the international community.  By holding these identification and capacity-building workshops for governments, Defenders of Wildlife helps countries develop their capacity for effectively carrying out CITES requirements.  This development, in turn, contributes to the much-needed conservation of imperiled shark species on an international scale.

Each of the three workshops was comprised of more than thirty representatives from Peruvian government agencies including the Environmental Ministry (MINAM), the Production Ministry (PRODUCE), the leading marine research institution (IMARPE), and the body overseeing Peruvians customs control (SUNAT).  Peru is a major exporter of sharks; thus, capacity-building programs for these agencies are particularly instrumental for international conservation moving into the future.

Setting Priorities in Paita

In Mancora, Sebastian Hernandez, left, showing one of our group members an identification technique.

The first workshop was set in the city of Paita. On the first day of the workshop, experts delivered presentations that expanded participants’ knowledge of imperiled shark and manta species and developed their understanding of the certificates. The team biologist, Sebastian Hernandez BIOMOL, Universidad Veritas, Costa Rica, gave a demonstration on identifying sharks and shark fins by measuring the fin, determining the coloring of the fin and its tips, then taking tissue samples for genetic analysis. Other presentations examined topics unique to Peru including recent national legislation regarding sharks and shark products, and how the country approaches control and registration of shark trade. Day two of the workshop was more practical in that participants gained some hands-on experience by holding and examining shark fins from artisanal fisheries.  The group traveled to the port of Mancora where participants learned methods of cataloging, registering, and identifying sharks, shark fins, and rays.  Everyone in the group was given the opportunity to measure and identify species of sharks and rays that had just landed at the port.

Diving into the Peruvian Shark Trade in Ilo

Participants of the workshop in Ilo outside the IMARPE building.

The second workshop took place in Ilo; to the south of Lima.  The participants engaged in discussions on the monitoring of the Peruvian shark trade.  Workshop participants witnessed a porbeagle shark landing, which is significant in that the porbeagle is not a species native to the waters in that region.

The second day of the Ilo workshop included a demonstration of the iSharkFin software and guide developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to expedite and enhance shark fin identification. Defenders then took the participants to the port in Ilo to practice manual shark fin identification techniques, including the use of Defenders shark ID guides, that they had learned earlier in the workshop.

Putting New Knowledge to the Test in Pucusana

The third and final workshop took place in Pucusana. The energy was palpable as participants contributed to discussions with enthusiasm and vigor. Presenters offered insight on topics ranging from advancements in identification technology to recent national legislation for the protection of sharks and rays. There was a passionate discourse on issues related to CITES, during which participants challenged each other and themselves to focus on improving shark fin identification capacity in Peru.

Sebastian Hernandez discussing the morphology of different shark fins through SUNAT dry shark fins.

The culmination of all three workshops ended with a real-world test of the attendees’ new-found skills as the Peruvian customs control, SUNAT, permitted participants to practice identifying dry fins. The team then provided SUNAT officials with a separate demonstration of the iSharkFin technology and a lesson on morphological and genetic distinctions between shark species.

All three workshops were tremendous successes for all involved. Productive discussions were pervasive each day, and all participants attained a deeper appreciation for the importance of effective and efficient shark fin identification and traceability. Defenders is working, and will continue to collaborate, with Peru and other countries in the region to increase capacities for ensuring the sustainable trade of marine resources and an effective implementation of CITES species listings.

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