An agreement with bite: Welcoming new protections for sharks

Portugal UN Ocean Conference
Visitors watch sharks and other fish swimming in the main tank at the Oceanarium in Lisbon, Monday, June 27, 2022. From June 27 to July 1, the United Nations is holding its Oceans Conference in Lisbon expecting to bring fresh momentum for efforts to find an international agreement on protecting the world’s oceans. (AP Photo/Ana Brigida)

An agreement with bite: Welcoming new protections for sharks

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Last month, governments around the world met at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species summit. Their mission? To advance protections for the most endangered animals and plants on the planet. With more than 1 million species currently threatened with extinction, there is much work to be done.

Protecting endangered species can be a highly complex process. There might be no demand for a species in one country, yet huge demand in another. Complex supply chains and lucrative illegal wildlife trades create further challenges. Protecting ocean life comes with another set of unique challenges. Laws must be recognized by a majority of governments to have an effect.


The problem with this is that one country can cause a commercially viable species (such as many shark species) to go extinct. Yet while that nation alone reaps the economic benefits of this fishing, the environmental damages are shared by all countries. Sharks are among the species that have suffered the most as a result. Fortunately, this may now start to change.

One of the biggest outcomes of the COP-19 conference is the set of agreements that protect sharks. The agreements could be the most significant protection of these extraordinary animals for a very long time. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, over a third of all elasmobranchs (the family that includes sharks and rays) are threatened by extinction. That matters for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that sharks are of great importance to this planet’s health. Fifty-four species of shark gained additional protections at COP-19. Look-a-like sharks also gained protection. In the past, fishermen have been able to target protected species by claiming that they thought they were catching a similar, unprotected species. Of crucial importance, almost all of the shark species for which there is an international trade in fins now have additional protection.

There is a lot of hard work yet to be done. Implementing and enforcing these new rules is the hard part. But this is a step in the right direction — and a big step at that.


Andrew Rogan is a marine biologist specializing in the study and preservation of whales and their habitats.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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