A resounding cry for reason vital at Cites. By: Edward Dorson

The current Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in Doha reached its mid-way point last Thursday, clearly working against the very mandate it had vowed to protect. The science was irrefutable, nevertheless, Cites denied much-needed protection for polar bears and the Atlantic bluefin tunas. The emergent, yet still unseen other endangered “species”, is trade in species itself. All trade in a species vanishes when that species no longer exists.

Cites must now intensively inspect its definition of just what “trade” is in fulfilling the organisation’s mandate properly. What Cites should not tolerate, while still claiming legitimacy, is “trade without a future”.

With the bluefin tuna defeat, a financial scheme that willfully banks on species’ extinction has now been legitimised as a means to hyper-inflate short-term profits. Unfortunately, the natural world cannot respond to economists’ projections for maximising profits. Shortsighted gains in the form of set quotas simply cannot be met through natural reproduction of species that are being depleted at a demanded-upon pace.

This pattern of thinking has no place on a planet where a species continued existence is essential for the biodiversity that must remain intact to support future generations as well as future economies.

In the case of the bluefin tuna, failure to support a ban on fishing until populations recover to sustainable levels is projected to have negative consequences for the other commercially exploited marine species, particularly the equally endangered sharks.

Almost a quarter million sharks are killed each day, mostly to have their fins hacked off for a status symbol soup served at weddings and banquets. Some shark Sharks targeted by finners aren’t taken whole; their valuable fins (which fetch up to $700 a kilo) are brutally hacked off and the less valuable finless shark is tossed back into the sea to sink and slowly die. That’s not only despicably inhumane; it wastes over 95% of the shark that could go for consumption.

The obliteration of 400mn years of evolution for some perceived social status with serving shark fin soup isn’t just incredibly wasteful and cruel – it’s tragic. A healthy ocean depends on sharks.

Sharks, as apex predators, are vital to regulate species abundance and distribution necessary to maintain an intricate ecosystem full of diversity and life. The removal of sharks is causing devastating impacts with harmful results rebounding into the food chain.

“Cascade” events demonstrate how the elimination of sharks ruins both ecosystems and economies. One such example began in the western north Atlantic in the late 1990’s as shark populations were depleted. The rays and skates the sharks had once fed upon underwent a population explosion. The rays and skates, in turn, rapidly depleted the scallops, oysters, and clams. Once shellfish stocks collapse, their beneficial role in filtering toxins from the water ceases, and results in algal blooms that are harmful to all marine life. Events such as this disrupt tourism and devastate coastal economies.

The ecological and economical consequences of an ocean without sharks is staggering. As the ocean is the very engine that runs the systems that maintain all life, this hidden holocaust will ultimately critically impact life on land as well. We must denounce this travesty against the planet, and take considered action to deny such predation upon the natural world.

A prime responsibility of all generations is to ensure that the world left to the next one is at least as vital and habitable to the one we live in today. Natural processes can’t be compromised or bartered. Grotesque greed and indifference must be denied for the sake of the sharks and a planet that requires their continuing existence.

All reasoning people must now reach a threshold that says no more to the senseless slaughter of the world’s sharks for soup.

Many nations are contributing to this tragedy…countries with damaged economies or a quick-fix determinism to prey upon the natural world until all is consumed. Surely this is outright madness.

Reckless decision-making at Cites must be countered with a resounding cry for reason going into the final sessions starting today.

Denying Cites protection for the sharks would add a major ingredient in the rapid creation of a vast lifeless soup, formally known as the ocean.

Edward Dorson is Director of Conservation Strategies, Shark Research Institute.

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