Delegates overturned the protection of the porbeagle shark, agreed earlier this week, and rejected protection measures for other shark species in the closing hours of the global summit on trade in endangered species in Doha.
A proposal that would have regulated trade in the scalloped, smooth and great hammerhead sharks, along with dusky and sandbar sharks, was reconsidered, after being defeated earlier this week, but did not achieve the two thirds majority out of 175 countries it needed for approval.
Porbeagle shark won 84 votes for, 46 against and 10 abstentions. The hammerhead shark proposal won 76 votes for, 53 against with 14 abstentions.
Similar proposals to regulate trade in oceanic whitetip sharks, spiny dogfish and red coral have all been rejected this week.
The decisions made in the last hours of the Doha meeting made it a clean sweep by Japan, which had mounted an orchestrated campaign to vote down all 13 marine species proposed for listing under the Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) over the past two weeks.
Sue Lieberman of the Pew Environment Trust said: “It is a truly sad day for conservation. CITES used to be a treaty that restricted trade for the sake of conservation. Today, it has become a treaty that restricts conservation for the sake of trade.”
Heike Zidowitz, president of Europe’s leading association of shark scientists, the Shark Alliance, said: “These failures leave some of the oceans’ most vulnerable and heavily traded species at great risk from unregulated, international trade.”
The proposals to list porbeagle and spiny dogfish under CITES Appendix II were developed by the European Union while the United States proposed similar action for hammerheads and oceanic whitetip sharks. The Pacific island nation of Palau co-sponsored all four proposals.
The high demand for shark fins by Asian countries, which use them in soup, is thought to be the major threat to hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks while porbeagles and spiny dogfish are sought primarily to satisfy European demand for their meat.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), all the shark species proposed for CITES listing were classified as Globally Threatened under the IUCN Red List and meet the criteria for listing under CITES Appendix II, which regulates trade.
Appendix II listings require countries to issue export permits after deciding whether trade in a species is legal and not detrimental to the species’ survival.
In the debate on hammerhead sharks, Jane Lyder, the US Interior Department’s deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, told fellow delegates, “The only data available show that the species is in decline.”
But a delegate from Japan questioned those statistics, and suggested small island states would suffer economically if they were forced to regulate the shark trade. “For developing coastal states, trade would be hampered and enforcement would be a nightmare.”
Conservationists say the irony is that the country hosting the meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity this year is the country that did the most at this meeting to undermine the protection of marine biodiversity, Japan.