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March 12, 2013

Report from CoP16: Before the Final Plenary

Humane Society International

  • We all join HSI's Rebecca Regnery and Iris Ho in celebrating the interim shark and ray decisions, but they have yet to be finalized. HSI

  • HSI's Alexia Wellbelove speaking in support of the proposal to transfer the freshwater sawfish from Appendix II to Appendix I of the Convention, which was adopted by consensus. HSI

  • Many of the votes were close, and there is still a chance the decisions could be overturned in the final plenary. HSI

Today marks the end of the Committee stage of the 16th Meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties, or CoP16, which will continue in Bangkok, Thailand until Thursday this week. It is set to get both hotter in the city and in the meeting room here.

At this point, the CoP has concluded discussion of a long list of draft decisions affecting a wide range of species. All of these have to be confirmed during the next two days. It is at this point that—if a third of the parties request it—any of the decisions (though usually only those that passed or failed by a small margin) can be re-opened for debate and potentially another vote. We expect that some countries will seek to re-open some of the marine species decisions at least.

Breaking ground

Thus far, many of the interim decisions have been truly ground-breaking, especially the agreement to include commercially exploited shark species on the CITES Appendices and thereby protect them from trade. We just have to hope that they are still in place by the end of play later this week. After the disastrous CoP15 in Qatar three years ago, it is worth celebrating the fact that, whatever happens in plenary, every proposal to increase protection for a wild species voted on or debated at this meeting (except polar bears) was adopted by the Parties in Committee One.

Sharks and rays

On Monday, we considered the proposals for five shark species, freshwater sawfish and two manta ray species, votes on which had been expected to be among the most contentious of the meeting. At the end of the day, history was made. All the shark and manta ray proposals were adopted by the necessary 2/3 majority, while the freshwater sawfish proposal was adopted by consensus. Although a few species of shark are already listed under CITES, the inclusion of these species marks the first time that marine fish taken in major directed pelagic fisheries have been included in the CITES Appendices—a huge success.

Three shark proposals were debated: the oceanic whitetip shark, the scalloped hammerhead (as well as the great and smooth hammerhead sharks, included since they can be confused with the scalloped species) and the porbeagle shark. The proposals sought Appendix II listing to strengthen regulations on the international trade of these species. The two manta ray species were considered for listing under Appendix II as well. The freshwater sawfish was accepted for transfer to listing under Appendix I, which bans international commercial trade. HSI/Australia spoke out on the floor to support this important move by Australia. Demand for fins from the oceanic whitetip and hammerhead shark, meat and fins from the porbeagle shark, and gill rakers from the manta rays have caused alarming population declines worldwide.

Unsurprisingly, the shark and manta ray proposals were debated at length. Many Latin American countries spoke strongly in favor of putting in place a CITES regime for these animals. Their support was echoed by the European Union, West African countries, several eastern African countries, including Somalia and Kenya, and New Zealand and Australia.

Progress despite opposition

Opposition was voiced by Asian countries that trade heavily in shark and ray products. Japan, China, Singapore, and Thailand spoke against the proposals; so did some Caribbean countries and southern African countries, such as Mozambique. This opposition bloc challenged the proposals on grounds of effectiveness of implementation and product identification and traceability. They also argued that Regional Fishery Management Organizations (RFMOs) were the bodies that should be putting in place conservation and management measures and not CITES.

In a move vital to the protection of marine species under CITES, Committee Two finally accepted rules governing Introduction from the Sea. Failure to adopt these rules, which govern importation of specimens taken on the high seas, has been a major stumbling block for many countries that argued that CITES had a role in marine species conservation.


Discussions about rhinos have also been ongoing here. The surge in rhino poaching, which has seen close to 2,000 rhinos killed for their horns in South Africa alone since 2007, and which shows no sign of abating, is considered to be one of the most organized criminal activities currently faced by CITES.

Committee Two has agreed a raft of recommendations to strengthen rhino protection in range states, encourage demand reduction efforts in consumer countries, and prevent the illegal commercial trade in horn which drives poaching.

A high-level delegation from South Africa, led by Environment Minister Edna Molewa, held several side events and debates exploring whether trade in rhino horn should be legalized. HSI and our Species Survival Network colleagues were able to meet with the minister and her delegation and express our concerns that legalizing trade in rhino horn won’t help rhinos, and could make the threat much worse by stimulating demand and creating opportunities whereby horn from poached rhinos can be laundered into trade.

Not over yet

We celebrated earlier in the meeting when the African manatee was placed by consensus on Appendix I, and felt shocked and saddened when the polar bear failed to gain the same distinction. We do not think that it is likely that either decision will change, but sometimes unexpected things happen at CITES. A large number of very important listings also agreed upon for a range of fresh water turtles, green geckos, crocodiles, other reptiles and two frog species also remain to be finalized. We will continue to work hard to make sure that all the good decisions will be upheld.

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