CITES: International Protection for Sharks and Rays

CITES has been all over the news lately…but what is it and why is it important?

For many of you, like me, you’re aware that CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) took place in Bangkok, Thailand from March 3 – 14, 2013. To clarify things, below is a short summary about CITES and why it’s important to the conservation of the sharks, skates and rays we all love!

CITES, a multilateral treaty drafted as a result of a resolution at the 1963 International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), aims to ensure international trade of specimens of flora and fauna does not threaten the survival of the species in the wild.

In the last 40 years, CITES celebrated its 40th anniversary at the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP16), has grown to 178 Parties (members) and has managed to provide varying degrees of protection to 34, 000 species of plants and animals, including the Elasmobranchii; Cetorhinus maximus (Basking shark), Carcharodon carcharias (Great White), and Rhincodon typus (Whale shark), and as of 2013, Sphyrna lewini (Scalloped Hammerhead), Sphryna Mokkaran (Great Hammerhead),  Sphyrna lewiniunder (Smooth Hammerhead), and Lamna nasus (Porbeagle shark), all listed under Appendix II.

Now you may be thinking – “what’s an Appendix?!”

CITES provides three degrees of protection to species; the species are placed into categories (Appendices) based on the level of protection agreed upon by the Parties. (See the table below).

Table 1: CITES degree of protection for flora and fauna.

To see a summary table of Appendices I, II and III click here:

FINALLY, here’s what happened at CITES CoP16:

The Parties participating in Committee I reviewed this working document on Sharks and Stingrays prior to meeting on March 11, 2013.


  • Committee I – discusses and makes recommendations concerning proposals to amend the appendices, quotas, and other scientific issues
  • Committee II – discusses and makes recommendations concerning the implementation and operation of CITES

On March 11, 2013 Committee I met and discussed 5 proposals. This Draft Amendment to Resolution 12.6 (rev. CoP16) and Draft Decisions of the Conference of the Parties was produced. (See description of Proposals below).

Table 2: Description of the five CITES proposals for sharks and rays, 2013.

On March 14th, 2013 CITES held a closing plenary session (a meeting of all Parties) where there was the potential for any of the above proposals to be re-opened for discussion if 1/3 of the Parties voted to do so. During the plenary, debate climaxed as an attempt to re-open the proposals on Sharks and Rays was narrowly defeated.

This means all five species of shark AND mantas were accepted for protection under Appendix II. Moving forward, countries that directly and indirectly fish these species must provide evidence that ensures Oceanic Whitetip, Porbeagle and Scalloped, Smooth, and Great Hammerhead sharks are harvested sustainably and legally. Trade of these species will be regulated through the use of CITES export permits. An export permit will only be issued if the specimen was legally obtained and export will not be detrimental to the survival of the species. It is now up to the individual Parties to enforce the provisions of CITES and to prohibit trade violations. Canada (and each individual Party) will now be responsible for penalizing trade and possession of the five newly protected species of sharks and two species of manta.

In the end….CITES CoP16 accepted 55 proposals, rejected 9 and 6 were withdrawn and strong enforcement measures to fight wildlife crime were adopted.

Next meeting will be held in South Africa in 2016.

Written by: Beth Watson, ShARCC Social Media Intern

Supplementary Information:


For the complete Taxonomic Checklist of all CITES listed Shark and Fish species look here:

Working Document on Sharks and Stingrays:

Draft Amendment to Resolution 12.6 (rev. CoP16) and Draft Decisions of the Conference of the Parties was produced: ;

For the complete Summary Record of the 11th session of committee I on March 11th: (proposals 42 – 43) (proposals 43 – 46)


FAO – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

RFMO – Regional Fisheries Management Organization

IWMC -World Conservation Trust

CMS – Convention on Migratory Species

IUU – illegal, unreported, and unregulated

IPOA – International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks

NPOA – National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks

COFI – FAOs Committee on Fisheries

IUCN – International Union for the Conservation of Nature

WG – working group


*If you have comments or questions, please respond below, and I will reply as soon as possible.

This entry was posted in Beth Watson. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to CITES: International Protection for Sharks and Rays

  1. Amanda Burr says:

    Very helpful information, thanks for making it easy to understand all about CITES. It’s encouraging to know that the number of members involved and species under protection are growing! Does this mean that until South Africa 2016, there can be no changes made (additions or removals) of species to CITES, or are there loop holes etc?

  2. ShARCC says:

    Hi Amanda! Thanks for reading! Species may be added or removed from Appendix III any time at the request of a member state. However, no species may be added or removed from Appendix I or II until the next CoP in 2016 – a committee must have a majority vote for a species to be added to these Appendices.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>