United Nations Rejects Shark Protections

As an addition to previous decisions regarding coral, Atlantic bluefin tuna, polar bears and tigers, the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) on Tuesday voted down three out of four proposals to protect sharks.

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The rejected proposals would have required countries to strictly regulate, not ban, trade in several species of scalloped hammerhead, oceanic whitetip and spiny dogfish sharks.

The hammerhead and whitetip proposals, introduced by the United States and the small Micronesian island of Palau, received majority support. However, the treaty behind CITES requires that measures be approved by a two-thirds vote.

Tom Strickland, the head of the U.S. delegation, dubbed these votes a "major loss for marine conservation."

A proposal from the European Union and Palau to protect porbeagle sharks passed with a vote of 86 to 42, with 8 delegates abstaining. 

China, which is the world's largest consumer of shark, for sharkfin soup, and Japan led the opposition.

"We will continue to pursue our efforts to protect sharks from eradication by the decadent and cruel process of shark-finning," Stuart Beck, Palau's ambassador to the United Nations, said. "I am sure that, properly prepared, bald eagle is delicious. But, as civilized people, we simply do not eat it."

Juan Carlos Vasquez, a spokesman for the convention, said that the votes on the hammerhead and the porbeagle could be reopened on Thursday and possibly overturned at the final session of the conference, since the margin of passage was so narrow.

Fortunately, on Monday, delegates voted to uphold a 21-year ban on international trade in ivory, rejecting efforts by Tanzania and Zambia to sell part of their stocks.

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Published: March 24, 2010