Will sharks ever be as popular as dolphins? Limiting the international trade of several species, with rays and sea cucumbers, is in any case a growing interest in the protection of poorly known or even unloved marine species.
Eighteen species of stingrays and sharks and three sea cucumbers could enter Annex II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) at the conclusion of of a series of votes Sunday.
These decisions are yet to be confirmed in plenary before Wednesday, CITES 'closing day in Geneva, which regulates the international sales of more than 35,000 species of wild fauna and flora.
CITES came into force in 1975. It was not until 2003 that sharks were included in Appendix II: their international trade is allowed, with an export permit, if it does not harm the survival of the species. species in nature.
"Because of films like" The teeth of the sea ", sharks have for a long time had no one to defend them," recalls Ralf Sonntag, a marine biologist with the NGO Ifaw.
But things are changing. "Countries are more aware" of the importance of protecting these species, victims of overfishing, "and use CITES to strengthen their management," says Jennifer Sawada, Pew NGO, to AFP.
Shortfin mako and porbeagle shark, which could join Appendix II this year, are popular in Asia for their fins and flesh, while the rhinidae family of guitars and stingrays are sought after for their fins. .
Sharks are also victims of bycatch.
The financial stakes are enormous. According to the United Nations Agricultural Organization (FAO), trade in shark products is close to $ 1 billion a year.
The reproduction rate of these animals, which appeared 400 million years ago, does not help: they reach sexual maturity late and reproduce relatively little compared to other fish such as tunas.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had already worried in March about several species of sharks and rays.
Hence the need, according to the countries defending these proposals and NGOs, to regulate their international trade.
"There is a real worry about the stocks of big predators," says Arnaud Horellou, an engineer at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. "Intergovernmental management programs do not deliver the expected results," he says.
Intergovernmental fisheries organizations have a resource management approach, while CITES is concerned about species conservation, says Luke Warwick of Wildlife Conservation Society. CITES can also impose sanctions against states not implementing its decisions.
"Regional fisheries organizations remain the most effective solution for managing fish species," says Opes Oceani, who works with industrialists. Opposed to greater regulation, countries, mainly in Asia, argue that the available data do not prove that these species are really threatened.
The public's eyes are also changing, argue the protectors of animals. "Sharks are the new dolphins," says Ralf Sonntag.
In some countries, such as Fiji, rather than fishing for these animals, it is possible to dive alongside them, providing a source of income.
However, the look on these animals still differs from that on iconic species such as elephant or rhinoceros, tempers Luke Warwick. Otherwise, sharks or rays would already be classified in Annex I, which prohibits all international trade, he believes.
All agree on the growing interest in marine species. "CITES and NGOs are often criticized for dealing only with powerful and charismatic animals," notes Robin des Bois.
The listing of three species of sea cucumbers in Appendix II, overexploited to feed Asian markets, proves the opposite: "CITES is interested in the ungraded", greets Robin Hood.