Proposal to protect hammerhead sharks rejected at CITES conference

NOTE: The video below was produced prior to the defeat of the proposal to protect hammerhead sharks. WARNING: Video contains footage of shark finning.

A proposal introduced by the U.S. and Palau to protect hammerhead sharks (including the endangered scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead, and the threatened smooth hammerhead) was defeated yesterday in Doha, Qatar at the CITES conference, according to an AP report. U.S. Assistant Interior Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Tom Strickland said, “The greatest threat to the hammerhead is from harvest for the international fin trade and the fin of the species is among highly valued of the trade,” and that regional fisheries bodies have done nothing to regulate the trade of this species.

Opposition to the proposal, led by Japan and supported by countries dependent on the shark fin trade, argued, “it would be difficult to differentiate the hammerheads from other species and would deprive poor fishing nations of much needed income.”

The notion that it would be difficult to differentiate any of the three species of hammerheads from other species is laughable, at best. Hammerhead sharks have a very distinct appearance, hence the name “hammerhead.” The latter half of the argument seems like a valid one from a financial standpoint, but it is also a flawed argument when it comes to establishing regulations to keep hammerhead shark populations at sustainable levels. If “poor fishing nations” rely on income from harvesting these species, it would only make sense that regulating the trade of the species would be beneficial to those nations. If these species become extinct or reach near-extinction levels due to over-harvesting, where will that leave the fishermen and those whose livelihood depends on this particular trade?

As was the case with last week’s multiple marine species protection proposal defeats, at the end of the day money talks. The wealthier markets that import these shark fins sell them at a huge mark-up, while the fishermen of the “poor fishing nations” only end up with a tiny fraction of what the shark fins are ultimately sold to the consumer for. I wonder if the countries with the major markets for shark fins would be open to the idea of paying the “poor fishing nations” a much higher percentage of the fins’ market value, since they are clearly concerned with the livelihood of these poorer nations.

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