Mako sharks, also known as the ‘cheetahs of the sharks,’ are the fastest of all shark species, but they cannot outswim the threat of overfishing in the world’s oceans, say conservation experts from WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) and other groups who applaud plans by government delegates to increase protection for makos and other sharks and rays fishes at CITES, convening this week in Switzerland.

Species currently under consideration for listing on CITES Appendix II, which provides a framework for controlling international trade, are longfin and shortfin mako sharks (Isurus oxyrinchus and Isurus paucus), both of which are listed as “Endangered” on IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. The shortfin mako is considered to be the world’s fastest shark species, capable of bursts of speed up to 70 kilometers per hour (more than 40 miles per hour).

Both mako species have a worldwide distribution in tropical and temperate seas and are important commercially around the globe. A recent assessment on these species found that both makos have declined by approximately 90 percent in the Atlantic over the last 75 years, in part because of the demand for their meat and fins.

Proposals for all species of giant guitarfish and wedgefish—lesser known species of shark-like rays found in coastal waters from the Indian Ocean to Indonesia and Southeast Asia—are also being supported by government delegates to CITES. All six species of guitarfish are listed by IUCN as “Critically Endangered,” as are nine out of the 10 known species of wedgefish. The declines in these species over the past 30 to 45 years have been caused largely by overfishing.

With the support of more than 50 governments from around the globe, these efforts are being led by the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Senegal, the Dominican Republic and Mexico, who submitted the initial proposals and are spearheading efforts in Geneva to secure their adoption.

“We’re enthusiastic about the large number of governments that have co-sponsored these important proposals,” said Luke Warwick, Associate Director of WCS’s Shark and Ray Conservation Program. “Placing these shark and ray species on Appendix II will help make international trade in these species easier to regulate and ultimately more sustainable. We still have much work to do in saving these ancient predators, but the growing movement to safeguard sharks and rays gives us hope for ensuring functional marine ecosystems for the future.”

Said Dr. Susan Lieberman, WCS Vice President for International Policy and head of the WCS delegation at CITES: “The governments sponsoring these proposals to list these overexploited species on CITES Appendix II are exhibiting the kind of leadership needed to protect sharks and their relatives from depletion and possibly extinction in the world’s seas and coastal waters, and we implore other government representatives to follow their lead and support these proposals.”

Shark and ray populations are in crisis globally, with many species being hunted to the brink. Of the 100 shark and ray species targeted by the international fin trade, about a third are threatened with extinction. In response effective shark fisheries management must be a global priority. Current efforts to protect makos, giant guitarfish, and wedgefish (18 species in total) will continue the trend of adding elasmobranchs (sharks, skates, and rays) to species listed and regulated under CITES—the only international convention dedicated to regulating international wildlife trade, to ensure species are not threatened by that trade. Species already listed on the CITES Appendices include the whale shark, basking shark, great white shark, seven species of sawfishes, silky shark, hammerhead sharks, three species of thresher shark, and nine species of devil rays.

WCS is a strong supporter of CITES, has staff who have attended all meetings of the Conference of the Parties since CoP7 in 1989, and will be represented by many international wildlife and policy experts at the 18th  meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP18) in Geneva, Switzerland. WCS views on the proposals to amend the Appendices are based on the CITES listing criteria, the best available scientific and technical information, and information from our field and country programs around the world. To learn more about WCS recommendations go HERE. WCS’s ‘on-the-ground’ presence across much of the globe enables it to address multiple aspects of wildlife exploitation and trade, including wildlife crime, at all points along the trade chain in source, transit and consumer countries.