Great White Sharks, Others Win Global Protection

James Owen in London
for National Geographic News
October 15, 2004

Big fish loomed large at the 13th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which closed this week in Bangkok, Thailand.

The annual global wildlife summit, which agreed to new controls to prevent illegal trafficking in endangered species, paid special attention this year to marine fish and commercially prized trees.

Elephants, whales, and other charismatic mammals which appear regularly on the summit's agenda also featured.

CITES is an international agreement between 166 governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their species' survival. Countries that are party to the agreement have agreed to enforce its provisions through permits, policing, and monitoring. The Fish and Willdife Service enforces CITES in the U.S.

The great white shark, the world's largest predatory fish, gained CITES protection for the first time at this year's conference. Delegates heard that increased demand for the shark's jaws, teeth, and fins was decimating already vulnerable populations. Great white jaws can fetch up to U.S. $10,000 each.

The shark was given Appendix II status, which means a permit is needed to trade in its parts.

"This listing will help us manage the trade that currently threatens the great white shark by requiring data showing that harvests are not a detriment to the species," said Ramon Bonfil, a shark specialist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, based in New York.

The humphead wrasse was granted similar status. The giant coral reef fish, which can grow to 400 pounds (190 kilograms), is sold as a delicacy in Southeast Asia. The wrasse's lips are especially sought after, and the fish fetches up to U.S. $290 per pound ($130 per kilogram).

"Humphead wrasse is an increasingly popular luxury item in restaurants in Hong Kong and China, and the trade—both legal and illegal —has become unsustainable," said Clarus Chu, of the Worldwide Wildlife Fund.

Caviar Restrictions

Another luxury-food fish to benefit from tighter trade controls is the sturgeon, caught for their caviar in the Caspian Sea. Delegates voted for rules that require all caviar to be exported in the same year that it's processed.

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