Sharks now protected no matter whose waters they swim in

It’s been a good week for beleaguered sharks. A cross-border conservation pact signed by 126 countries this week promises for the first time to extend extra protection to sharks and several other migratory species, whichever countries they stray into.

Among the biggest winners at the global Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals(CMS) were whale sharks: the world’s largest fish. They are a vulnerable species and their population has been falling. Governments added whale sharks to appendix I of the convention, promising to protect them domestically from killing or capture, and to safeguard their habitats.

Conservationists welcomed the move because it means whale sharks will finally be protected at offshore “hotspots” to which they migrate, including Madagascar, Mozambique, Peru and Tanzania.

Several other sharks made it on to appendix II, which obliges countries within a species’ migratory range to collaborate on measures to protect them, for example by regulating fishing or banning finning.

International cooperation

Conservationists particularly welcomed the new status for blue sharks. “They’re the most highly fished sharks in the world, with 20 million caught around the world each year, but they’re also the most migratory, so they’re vulnerable to fisheries everywhere,” says Matt Collis of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “This puts pressure on countries to commit to international protection.”

Other sharks sharing in the same new protections included dusky sharks, angelsharks, white-spotted wedgefish and the bizarrely named common guitarfish.

As an additional bonus, Sri Lanka, Ecuador, Benin and Brazil joined the shark memorandum of understanding, an ad hoc agreement already signed by 41 countries to coordinate protection for sharks. Collis says the addition of Brazil is particularly significant, as it has a large part to play in protection of many species of shark.