In response to the alarming decline of global shark populations, a group of countries from around the world have today announced a groundbreaking effort to control the unsustainable global trade in shark fins, which threatens to push these ecologically important predators to extinction.

The Government of Panama is leading this initiative, in partnership with 40 countries around the world, with the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Colombia, El Salvador, The Seychelles, The Maldives, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Senegal, Gabon, Israel, the United Kingdom, Syria and the European Union and its Member States (27 countries) all joining them in this effort. Decisions will be taken at the 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Panama is host of the CITES meeting in November, where 184 member nations will come together to make decisions on the governance of international trade of the world’s most threatened species. Panama themselves are proposing that CITES regulates the trade in all requiem sharks – a family that includes the Endangered gray reef shark, beloved by scuba divers throughout the world, as well as species such as the Dusky and Ganges shark where overfishing and the trade of fins has driven them even closer to the edge of extinction. Additional proposals look to secure similar protections for coastal hammerhead sharks, and guitarfish – flattened relatives of true sharks.

“We’re encouraged to see CITES Governments match their level of ambition to the level of threat seen for sharks and rays globally. These three proposals will take us from around 25 percent of species found in the fin trade regulated under CITES, to a situation where the vast majority of sharks traded for their fins in a half a billion dollar per year trade are subject to CITES oversight and controls,” said Luke Warwick, the Director of Shark and Ray Conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

Recently released science has shown the urgency of this action, with 37 percent of all sharks (and closely related rays), and 70 percent of species traded for their fins already threatened with extinction – the second highest rate of threatened species of all animal groups on the planet. Many requiem sharks are key predators on the world’s coral reefs, but recent global surveys found them to be functionally extinct on 20 percent of reefs surveyed, further jeopardizing the health of these ecosystems that are already being devastated by climate change.

Said Megan O’Toole, Director of International Policy at IFAW: “If adopted, these listings would change the face of shark conservation, leading to proper protections and sustainable management for species that have been largely overlooked. Panama and its partner governments are offering a clear pathway for the survival of these species. We hope that the rest of the world agrees, and offers sharks the long overdue attention these listings will bring.”

The CITES Conference of the Parties will make the final decision on these shark protections at its meeting held 14th-25th of November in Panama City, Panama. This will be the fourth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES held in Central and South America and the Caribbean since CITES came into force on 1 July 1975, the first in Central America since 1979, and the first held in the broader region since 2002.