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CITES Adds Sharks, Manta Rays Used In Chinese Cooking To List Of Endangered Species

03/14/2013 05:42 pm ET

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, took action to reduce global trade in endangered sharks and rays this week at its triennial Wildlife Conference in Bangkok, adding manta rays and five species of shark to its list of animals protected under the treaty.

Sharks and manta rays are some of the most majestic animals in the ocean, but some gourmands have long seen them as swimming carriers for fins and gills used in traditional Chinese dishes. An estimated 100 million sharks are killed every year to sate human appetites for pricy shark's fin soup, which has led to a 97 percent drop in the population over two centuries. Manta rays are sometimes harvested for their gill rakers, used in certain traditional Chinese medicines.

The addition of the six species to CITES's Appendix II will make it illegal for fishermen to catch any individual specimen without a permit from a local authority. These permits are supposed to certify that the fish is caught in quantities that won't lead to extinction, in a way that minimizes pain. This latter stipulation may be especially important in the shark fin trade, as shark fishermen are notorious for cutting fins off sharks and releasing them back into the ocean, where they usually die.

Environmental groups, including Pew Environmental Trusts, hailed the action as an important step toward abolishing shark finning.

The five species of sharks newly added to the CITES list -- the porbeagle, the oceanic whitetip and three varieties of hammerhead -- are among the varieties most sought-after for the shark's fin soup trade, but many other prized soup species remain off the list. And two fish many consider endangered -- bluefin tuna and eel -- weren't even discussed at this year's CITES meeting.

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