To put it simply, CITES CoP 17 offers an opportunity for more protection to at least four species of sharks and rays in the Bay of Bengal.
As you know, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has kicked of its 17th Conference of the Parties in South Africa’s Johannesburg on Saturday.
In this conference, the countries will review 62 proposals to control international trade of a large number of species, which are ‘not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.’ Among them there are proposals for protecting 14 Elasmobranch species by including them in the Appendix II.
The three proposals (42nd, 43rd and 44th proposals) want to see 13 salt-water species– all nine species of devil rays, all three species of thresher sharks, and the silky shark listed in the Appendix II. These are proposed by about two dozens of parties. And there is another proposal (45th) by the sole proponent Bolivia for a freshwater ray.
In Bangladesh’s water in the Bay of Bengal, we have reported presence of at least four of the proposed species; the Silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) and Giant Devil Ray (Mobula mobular), Japanese Devil ray (Mobula japanica) and Atlantic Devil ray (Mobula hypostoma).
Currently, international trade of eighteen Elasmobranch species is meant to be controlled by CITES Appendix II. Among them six are found in Bangladesh’s water; Whale shark (Rhincodon typus), Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini), Smooth Hammerhead (Sphyrna zygaena), Large-tooth Sawfish (Pristis microdon), Small-tooth Sawfish (Pristis pectinata), and Green Sawfish (Pristis zijsron).
In this meeting, unfortunately, CITES secretariat’s recommendation to the parties is negative about 43rd and 45th proposal seeking inclusion of the Thresher sharks and the Ocellate river stingray in Appendix II.
But the secretariat has recommended adoption of both 42nd and 44th proposal. If CoP17 adopt the proposals, the number of CITES protected species available in Bangladesh’ water will stand at ten. International trade of these species will not be allowed without permission by the national management authority- the Bangladesh Forest Department (BFD) in our case.
Fortunately, there is no instance in the past, of BFD issuing the permit to the export of any shark or ray species under the regulation of the CITES.
But as we’ve seen, species like whale shark and hammerheads are being caught in the bay, and most probably being exported. Reportedly, a large portion of the shark products goes to other Bay of Bengal countries- Myanmar and Thailand.
So, it seems, refusing to run a certification process isn’t helping much. It’s time for the Forest Department to step up and act as the management authority. Again, trade of these species ‘must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.’
BFD needs to start engaging port authorities and customs to ensure that export is not taking place without permission.
Mohammad Arju is a Director of Organization for Social Orientation and the Founder of Save Our Sea initiative. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org