Pacific Shark and Ray Symposium Forges New Alliances

"By working together, we can ensure the survival of these iconic animals in our region." – Michael Donoghue of SPREP

New alliances to protect sharks and large rays were formed between Pacific Island and Indian Ocean States at this week's Pacific Shark and Ray Symposium convened by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) in Nadi.

In both oceans, several species of sharks and mobulidrays, slightly smaller than manta rays, are threatened. Sharks are targeted by fishers for their fins, while rays are targeted for their gills, which are used in Chinese traditional medicine.

Silky and Threshers Sharks - fin identification guide for Customs officials

Delegates from Fiji, Palau, Papua New Guinea and Samoa exchanged information with representatives of the Governments of the Maldives and Sri Lanka, and discussed the September meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species (CITES), at which Fiji will be leading a proposal to place all nine species of rays of the genus Mobula on CITES Appendix II.

This would require that any trade is not to the detriment of their conservation and that import and export permits are issued for international trade. The Maldives is proposing the listing of silky sharks and Sri Lanka is proposing the listing of all three species of thresher sharks. A two-thirds majority will be needed for these proposals to be adopted.

"Such collaboration between Pacific and Indian Ocean States to promote CITES listings in advance of important meetings is unprecedented and reflects the critical status in which many of these species are now placed, following years of poor management and regulation by national and international fisheries agencies," said Mr. Michael Donoghue, SPREP's Threatened and Migratory Species Adviser.

"In association with NGOs such as the Pew Charitable Trusts, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Manta Trust, all of whom were represented at the meeting, we have been championing the conservation of sharks and rays. By working together, we can ensure the survival of these iconic animals in our region."

Participants at the Pacific Shark and Ray Symposium, Nadi, 19/20 April 2016

These efforts took on additional impetus with the appointment of Ms. Juney Ward as SPREP's Shark and Ray Conservation Officer five months ago. Ms. Ward has been working closely with the Government of Fiji to support their listing proposals to CITES for Mobula rays. Several countries, including Samoa, Senegal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Brazil, have already announced their co-sponsorship of Fiji's proposal, and Palau announced at the meeting that it will also co-sponsor the listing proposal. SPREP has also been assisting Customs and Biosecurity Departments to identify the fins of CITES-listed shark species by providing identification guides and leading training workshops.

As part of its support for Members, SPREP will be convening a pre-COP (Conference of the Parties) meeting in Samoa in August to assist countries to prepare for the forthcoming COPs of CITES and the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) later in the year.

An important reason for protecting these large and charismatic marine creatures is the revenue that can become available to coastal communities from well-managed ecotourism operations, and besides promoting their international protection, SPREP is also promoting the adoption of best practice for such operations amongst all members.
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