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New Regulations Protect Sharks And Manta Rays From Illegal International Trade

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Two manta ray species and five shark species - the oceanic whitetip shark, the porbeagle shark and three types of hammerheads - should be able to swim a little safer, thanks to new protection in the form of a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) regulation.

Beginning September 14, permits are now required for the international trade of these rays and sharks, to ensure "they have been harvested sustainably and legally." For the 180 parties that comprise CITES - from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe - the export of the gills, fins or meat of these species is no longer allowed without permits from national authorities. When exports do occur, these trade data will be made publicly available, according to a CITES press release.

Considering the roughly 100 million sharks killed annually, there's surprisingly little information on who is hunting which sharks where. "CITES is really the only way we have to monitor the trade and the fins of these species," says Stony Brook University shark expert Demian Chapman, in a video accompanying the announcement.

"The practical implementation of these listings will involve issues such as determining sustainable export levels, verifying legality, and identifying the fins, gills and meat that are in trade," says CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon, in a statement. "This may seem challenging, but by working together we can do it and we will do it."

(YouTube: Pew)

Although the countries that belong to CITES do so voluntarily, the organization has a powerful bite, points out Rick MacPherson at Deep Sea News. Failure to comply with the new regulations means "a Party not only risks its trade in shark fin through lack of compliance in CITES Appendix II restrictions, but also its lucrative trade in exotic hardwoods like mahogany, rosewood, or ebony."

That's good news for the seven species, two of which - the great and scalloped hammerheads - the IUCN lists as "endangered." The other five species are all considered "vulnerable."

But international trade, which CITES aims to regulate, is only part of the problem facing these rare cartilaginous fishes. Along the globe's coasts, some of the fishermen who hunt these sharks and rays sell the animals for local consumption. On the morning that the CITES regulation took effect, MacPherson says he could still find dozens of hammerhead sharks on display in the public markets of Trinidad.