Countries agree on actions to protect migratory sharks and rays
– by Isabel Ender
Last week marked a great milestone as close to 40 governments agreed to set new conservation priorities and enhance protection for migratory shark and ray species during the second meeting of the signatories to the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks (Sharks MOU), held in Costa Rica.
39 countries and the European Union agreed to grant protection to an additional 22 species of sharks and rays, which include five species of sawfish, three of thresher shark, nine species of mobula ray, the Reef Manta Ray, the Giant Manta Ray, the Silky Shark, the Great Hammerhead and the Scalloped Hammerhead. This decision significantly increases the number of shark and ray species protected under the Sharks MOU, which now includes all species of the two most threatened groups – sawfishes and threshers.
Shark and rays are highly vulnerable to overexploitation as they grow slowly, mature late and produce very few offspring. The rapid and largely unregulated increase in target fisheries and bycatch has depleted many populations of these species worldwide, with 100 million sharks estimated as being killed every year. Escalating demand for dried manta and mobula gill plates for use in Chinese medicine, as well as meat and cartilage, has led to targeting of these vulnerable species through fisheries that are largely unregulated and unmonitored. In the Indo Pacific, declines of mobula ray catches up to 96-99% have been recorded.
During the second meeting of the Signatories, the countries also agreed to invite 7 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as official cooperating partners to the Sharks MoU, which included The Manta Trust, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Project Aware, the Shark Trust, Sharks Advocates International, and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The Manta Trust is honoured to become part of this MoU, which refkects on our work and commitment towards mobulid research and conservation across the globe.
Other achievements of the meeting include the adoption of a revised Conservation Plan and Programme of Work for the next three years (2016-2018) aiming to strengthen research, monitoring and data collection to better understand shark populations and fisheries, as well as the decision to establish Conservation Working Group, composed of world-renowned experts on shark fisheries, population ecology, socio-economics, trade, traceability, governance, taxonomy, life history and geographic range of the species. Finally, a group of international conservation organizations also used this occasion to launch their new ten-year strategy outlining global priorities for conserving sharks and rays.