Conservationists at a global wildlife conference on Monday voted to regulate the trade of shark species that have been threatened because their fins are used to make expensive delicacies in Asia.
Delegates at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna in Bangkok voted to put the oceanic whitetip, hammerhead and porbeagle sharks on a list of species whose trade is closely controlled.
Under the regulations, both exporting and importing countries must issue licences for the sharks. If a nation is caught in violation, they can be hit with sanctions.
More than two dozen species of shark are officially endangered, and more than 100 others are considered either vulnerable or near-threatened. Sharks are seen by environmentalists as essential to the world’s ecosystem. Economically, sharks are valuable to nations with dive tourism industries.
Animal advocacy groups argue that without trade regulation, endangered and threatened species will continue to be killed for their fins.
In North America, research shows that endangered sharks are already on the tables of Chinese restaurants and sold in stores.
Last year, the Vancouver Animal Defense League tested the DNA of 59 samples of shark fins bought from local stores in Metro Vancouver and found that 76 per cent were threatened or endangered.
Of the 59 samples, eight were hammerhead species and five were porbeagles, according to the University of Guelph where the fins were tested.
A similar study by the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science found 32 endangered or threatened shark species in 14 U.S. cities.
Shark advocates are calling the new regulation a big win for ecosystems.
“These highly traded, threatened shark species urgently need protection from the unsustainable trade that jeopardizes populations, ecosystems, livelihoods, and ecotourism,” said Sonja Fordham, the founder of U.S.-based Shark Advocates International.
Threats against oceanic whitetip, hammerhead and porbeagle sharks are driven by demand for their fins, however porbeagle sharks are also targeted for their meat in Europe.
At the conference, 11 nations, including Brazil, the U.S. and Egypt, proposed regulating trade in the species.
Supporters said the species’ numbers have declined due to finning, overfishing and being accidentally caught by fishermen chasing other types of fish.
The controversial process of finning has come under fire because animal rights groups argue it is inhumane.
During the process, sharks are caught, their fins are cut off and their bodies are thrown back in the ocean to die.
Japan and China were among the proposals’ opponents. They argued that shark population control should be handled by regional fisheries management organizations.
Many countries now prohibit finning, however international waters remain unregulated.
Several Canadian cities and U.S. states, including Toronto, California, Washington, Oregon, Illinois and Hawaii have also banned the sale of shark fins.
With files from the Associated Press