(Washington, D.C.): Earth is home to several hundred species of sharks and rays, which play an essential role in the marine ecosystem. As predators, they help to maintain balance in the food chain, eliminate sick and weak animals, and ensure species diversity. Some sharks and rays even play a role in protecting coral reefs. Sadly, millions die each year due to overfishing and excessive bycatch, most of them in industrial fisheries, and many species of migratory sharks and rays have become threatened or endangered. As such, humans are a much bigger threat to sharks and rays than they are to us, despite their vicious reputations. A new report from the Environmental Law Institute seeks to improve the conservation and management of these misunderstood sea creatures.
“Because sharks and rays migrate across national boundaries beyond the regulation of individual nations, implementing the protections of legally binding international agreements is essential to their conservation. And while the agreements may address the same shark species, they are not always coordinated to implement their conservation and management objectives consistently and effectively,” said Greta Swanson, a Visiting Attorney at ELI and lead author of the report. “This report aims to map the synergies and gaps that exist among the different legal obligations for parties that fish in the high seas, and recommend opportunities for improvement.”
The report primarily examines three international agreements that are concerned with migratory sharks and rays in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Convention (WCPFC) includes a requirement to conserve and manage marine resources in the area in accordance with precautionary principles. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) requires that international trade of endangered species be legal and sustainable. Finally, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS), together with the Memorandum of Understanding on Migratory Sharks (MOU), seek to restore populations of endangered or threatened migratory sharks and rays to a favorable conservation status.
The report makes a number of recommendations that members and parties to the agreements should take to improve coordination amongst themselves, internationally and nationally, and to improve implementation of the agreements’ goals. Above all, the report recommends parties take into account the standards developed by the other agreements. For instance, parties to CITES should take into account the requirements of the WCPFC and compliance with them when making determinations about legality of sharks that fisheries catch in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Similarly, CITES parties should consider regional data and population assessments of shark populations in the WCPFC when determining whether the taking of a shark was consistent with sustainable fishery regulations. In addition, signatories to the CMS and MOU should work for measures consistent with CMS conservation standards within the WCPFC where appropriate.
The report, Integrating Legal Protections for Sharks and Rays Into Western and Central Fisheries Commission Regulation, is available for free download at: https://www.eli.org/research-report/integrating-legal-protections-sharks-and-rays-western-and-central-fisheries-commission-regulation.
Greta Swanson is available for interview.
The Environmental Law Institute makes law work for people, places, and the planet. With its non-partisan, independent approach, ELI promotes solutions to tough environmental problems. The Institute’s unparalleled research and highly respected publications inform the public debate and build the institutions needed to advance sustainable development.
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