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NMFS Steers Marine Issues at COP10.

Volume XXII, No. 5, of the Endangered Species Bulletin contained an overview of the latest Conference of Parties (COP) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty to conserve species vulnerable to over-exploitation from international trade. The following article focuses on the actions taken at COP10 for marine species.

Although the Endangered Species Act designates the Department of Interior as the U.S. Management Authority and Scientific Authority for CITES, Interior depends on the expertise of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in the Department of Commerce for species under NMFS' jurisdiction. All the great whales, dolphins, six seal species, the queen conch, and all hard coral species, for which NMFS has jurisdiction, are listed on either Appendix I or II of CITES. In addition, all the marine turtles and sturgeon species, protection of which is shared by FWS and NMFS, are listed in the CITES Appendices.

Issues concerning marine species have produced some of the most contentious debates at CITES conferences. Important marine subjects addressed this year at COP10 include the following issues:

Whales

Japan and Norway submitted five separate proposals for downlisting specific whale stocks, including species found in U.S. waters, from CITES Appendix I to II. These species or populations were originally added to Appendix I of CITES in direct response to a resolution passed in 1978 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which requested the assistance of CITES to enforce the IWC's moratorium on commercial whaling. As long as the moratorium is in effect, the U.S. believes these species should remain in Appendix I of CITES. Fortunately, none of the whale downlisting proposals gained passage at COP10.

Sea Turtles

Cuba submitted a proposal to downlist what it calls the "Cuban" population of hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) from Appendix I to Appendix II, annotated to allow a limited trade in turtle shell stocks with Japan. As a range State for hawksbill turtles, the U.S. strongly opposed this proposal. Over-exploitation to supply the international trade is the single largest cause for the decline of this species in the Caribbean. The proposal was voted on twice during the meeting, each time failing to garner the 2/3 vote necessary for adoption.

Sharks

Although no species as sharks are listed currently on CITES appendices, the Parties recognized that international trade is contributing significantly to the over-exploitation of some shark species. Sharks are long-lived, slow-growing animals with a very limited reproductive potential. History shows a pattern where expanding levels of directed fishing effort has been followed by collapse of the shark population. Increases in international demand for shark products led to a resolution 2 years ago at COP9 calling for a discussion paper on the trade and biological status of sharks.

NMFS helped the CITES Animals Committee coordinate development of the discussion paper. Included in the paper were 18 specific recommendations to 1) CITES Parties that have shark fisheries or other fisheries that take sharks as bycatch, and 2) the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. The paper was adopted by consensus at COP10. The second part of the resolution requests that FAO and other international fisheries management organizations establish programs to further collect and assemble biological and trade data on shark species, and to report on their progress at COP11. NMFS is participating in this process and in an FAO Consultation on Conservation and Management of Sharks.

Marine Fishes

At COP10, the U.S. also proposed establishment of a CITES Marine Fish Working Group. The main task of the group would be to investigate concerns about the CITES permitting process associated with marine fish species subject to large-scale commercial harvesting and international trade which are, or might be, included in CITES Appendix II. This proactive proposal was based on the work that NMFS has done on implementing the COP9 shark resolution and on a recognition that implementation problems would occur if marine species subject to large-scale fishing activity were listed in CITES. Unfortunately, the resolution lost by a vote of 49 yes, 50 no. Still, the U.S. believes certain commercially harvested, internationally traded marine fish do qualify for inclusion in CITES Appendix II, and that CITES is an appropriate vehicle to regulate their trade.

Marine issues will play an increasing role at future CITES meetings, and NMFS stands ready to help the United States to take informed leadership positions in this area.

Nancy Daves is a Marine Resource Specialist with NMFS.
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Title Annotation:National Marine Fisheries Service, Conference of Parties
Author:Daves, Nancy
Publication:Endangered Species Bulletin
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 1998
Words:747
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