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'Historic' vote expected on sharks at 19th Endangered Species Summit

This issue was one of the most discussed at the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19) of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which brings together 183 countries and the European Union.

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'Historic' vote expected on sharks at 19th Endangered Species Summit

This issue was one of the most discussed at the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19) of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which brings together 183 countries and the European Union.

The summit, which began on November 14 and ends on Friday, could bring dozens of species of requiem sharks (Carcharhinidae) and hammerhead sharks (Sphynidae) into Appendix II of the Convention, which strictly limits trade in certain species. An initiative supported by the European Union and fifteen countries, including Panama, host of the summit.

These are species that are not yet threatened with extinction but could become so if their trade is not tightly controlled. Appendix I completely prohibits trade in certain species.

If Thursday's plenary meeting gives the green light, "it will be a historic decision because for the first time CITES would take a position on a very large number of shark species which represent approximately 90% of the market", said Panamanian delegate Shirley Binder told AFP.

The market for shark fins exceeds 500 million dollars per year (483 million euros). They can sell for $1,000 a kilo in East Asia to make very famous soups.

- Intense debate -

Before the scheduled vote, an intense debate took place for three hours, on November 17, in a committee of the conference, Japan and Peru proposing to exclude certain species from the protection measures - a measure rejected to secret ballots before the approval of proposals to strengthen the protection of requiem sharks and hammerhead sharks.

"We hope that everything will be adopted in plenary", observes Ms Binder.

The plenary must also vote on the ratification of a proposal on the protection of the guitar ray.

During the committee's discussions, several delegations, including that of Panama, placed stuffed sharks on their tables, which then became a sort of symbol of the summit.

Delegates and leaders of nature protection organizations, observers at the summit, expressed confidence in the adoption of the resolutions in plenary.

"We hope that nothing extraordinary happens and that all of these families of sharks are included in Appendix II," Chilean delegate Ricardo Saez told AFP.

If the three proposals on requiem sharks, hammerhead sharks and guitarfish rays are passed, "we would go from controlling about 25% of the shark fin trade to more than 90%", explained to AFP at the start of the summit Ilaria Di Silvestre, head of European campaigns for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

"We are in the midst of a very great extinction crisis for sharks", the "second most threatened group of vertebrates on the planet", had then underlined for his part Luke Warwick, of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

In total, summit participants studied 52 proposals to modify the levels of protection of certain species.

CITES, in force since 1975, sets the rules for international trade for more than 36,000 wild species, ranging from the issuance of permits (more than one million authorized transactions per year) to total prohibition.

Organized every two or three years, the summit took place this year in the shadow and under the influence of two other UN conferences, which are also crucial for the future of living beings on the planet: the COP27 on the climate which ended on Sunday in Egypt and COP15 on the safeguarding of biodiversity in December in Montreal.

In 2019 in Geneva, CITES had strengthened the protection of giraffes, almost prohibited the purchase of elephants by zoos, maintained the ban on southern Africa selling its ivory stocks, and listed 18 sharks in its Appendix. II, those of species whose trade is strictly limited.

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