CITES at 40 - turning the tide


The most successful Conference ever’. ‘Landmark decisions on sharks’.  Those were typical quotes following the 16th Vin Fleming and Alison Littlewood represented JNCC on the UK delegation to CITES CoP16 where listing sharks was a key item on the agenda ©Vin FlemingConference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok in March – a meeting that also marked CITES’ fortieth birthday and which showed its willingness to finally tackle the trade in commercially exploited fish species. This issue is one with which JNCC representatives on the delegation - Vin Fleming and Alison Littlewood - have been involved for over a decade1.


The headline decisions were to list in Appendix II of the Convention, porbeagle, hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks and manta rays – all traded in high volume for their meat, fins or gills. Regulation by CITES will not ban trade but it should only be permitted if it can be shown to be non-detrimental. These decisions represent a genuine change in the approach to commercially exploited fish species whose listing has long been opposed by countries involved in the capture of, and trade in, such fish2.


But, despite all the euphoria of this success, agreeing to list a species in the Appendices is the beginning of a process, not the conclusion. Implementing these listings will be a challenge. For example, many of these sharks may be taken on the high seas beyond the jurisdiction of any State; their ‘import’ from the high seas into a country is known in CITES as ‘introductionVin Fleming discussing at CITES CoP16 the identification of dried shark fins with Luke Warwick, Pew Foundation ©Vin Fleming from the sea’. The procedures for such introduction from the sea, which are complex, were only finally adopted at this Conference (40 years after the Convention was signed).


More promisingly, from JNCC’s perspective, was a stronger focus on science-based decisions, with the EU gaining credibility by sticking to a collective interpretation of the listing criteria even though the ‘mood’ of other delegates might have been different.



1 For example, see Nature News 27

2 See Nature News 24




Contact File


Vin Fleming

Head of Global Advice

Tel: +44 (0) 1733 866870