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What does CITES mean for Mozambique?

March 2013 marked a victory for marine conservationists after the CITES plenary accepted the committees decision to include five species of sharks and both species of manta ray on Appendix II of the convention, and elevated the freshwater sawfish to Appendix I.

CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) is an international agreement that countries adhere to voluntarily, with the aim of ensuring that international trade in specimens for wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. This global treaty currently protects around 35,000 species and now includes the smooth, great and scalloped hammerhead sharks, oceanic white tip shark, porbeagle shark and both species of manta ray.

Protecting vulnerable species

The giant manta ray, the reef manta ray, the oceanic whitetip shark, the porbeagle shark and the smooth hammerhead are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and are considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild, with over 10% probability of extinction in the wild within the next 100 years. Meanwhile, the scalloped and great hammerhead sharks have an elevated status and are listed as endangered, thereby considered to be facing a very high risk of extinction and the probability of extinction in the wild is at least 20% within 20 years.

Of these species, the scalloped, great and smooth hammerhead sharks, oceanic whitetip and both species of manta ray are found in Mozambican waters. The current fisheries data does not distinguish between the different species of sharks and rays that are caught, rendering it difficult to assess how much biomass of each is being landed here, but over the last year; 51 hammerhead sharks and 5 manta rays (including 1 pregnant female) have been caught and reported to Eyes on the Horizon just in the Inhambane province. Separately, Marine Megafauna Foundation has documented an 88% decline in reef manta ray sightings over an eight-year study period (2003 – 2011), which is thought to be in part due to fisheries activities.

Gill rakers from manta rays are highly valued in international trade, particularly in Asian markets, while demand for shark fins continues apace and has resulted in directed targeting of these species. While the catch reported to Eyes on the Horizon appears to be incidental due to the fishing methods used by artisanal fisheries (namely gill nets), investigations over the past three years have confirmed that there is an existing market for shark fins in Mozambique, which may span international borders.

CITES Mozambique and the region

With their successful listing on CITES Appendix II, international trade in these animals, or parts thereof, is now subjected to certain controls and all trade is regulated through a system of permits and certificates, with the aim of ensuring trade does not threaten their survival in the wild.

Mozambique agreed to be bound by CITES in 1981 and was the 66th state (country) to join. The Mozambican representative at CITES supported the listing of manta rays onto Appendix II. Speaking on behalf of Southern African Development Community (SADC) she said,  “We support this proposal, because the manta ray is vulnerable to overexploitation due to limited reproductive capacity and their tendency to aggregate which makes them easy to catch in large numbers and this rate is increasing and is currently unprotected.”

Mozambique is currently the head of SADC – an inter-governmental organisation whose goal is to promote sustainable and equitable economic growth and socio-economic development among fifteen Southern African member states, nine of which have coastal borders.

Meanwhile, speaking for neighbouring South Africa, Mr Fundisile Goodman Mketeni, Deputy Director of General Biodiversity and Conservation commented,  “Manta rays are an iconic species that is highly valued for the tourism industries, and is not considered a fisheries species in most range states. Most coastal communities benefit from this non-consumptive species. “

But the story was different for the sharks. Mozambique – again speaking on behalf (SADC) members – did not back the proposals of any other elasmobranch species commenting that sharks look like other species that are fished by SADC states.

Implementing the changes

Still, with the addition of these species to CITES, Mozambique and all other CITES member states are bound to implement the convention and adopt legislation to ensure that the listing of these species – i.e. the sustainable and legal management of international trade – is adhered to at a national level.

SADC developed the Protocol on Wildlife Conservation and Law Enforcement (1999) recognising the importance to effectively protect wildlife and promote the sustainable use of wildlife resources in Southern Africa. This protocol emphasis’s the need for regionally agreed approaches to conservation, management, and the enforcement of illegal uses of wildlife and encourages national and regional capacity building and the facilitation of community–based wildlife management.

The listings onto Appendix I and II will not be administered for 18 months to allow the parties to build capacity for their implementation and enforcement and help is being made available for developing countries. The head of the EU’s delegation told the meeting that extra money would be made available to support developing countries to initiate the listings.

The Management Authority in charge of administering the licensing system in Mozambique is the Ministry for the Co-ordination of Environmental Affairs (MICOA) and the National Directorate of Environmental Management (DNGA). Meanwhile, Salomao Olinda Bandeira from the University Eduardo Mondlane is the Scientific Authority required to advise them on the effects of the trade of these species. Marine Megafauna Foundation will be working with the Government to help them develop management strategies for these species in the country and enforce these new CITES regulations.

These shark and ray species are currently not protected by Mozambican commercial or artisanal fisheries laws so their inclusion on the CITES appendices is a big step towards helping their conservation. While the capture of these animals is still legal here, the international trade in their products is not.  Eyes on the Horizon welcome reports on the catch of these species, to enable monitoring of landings and the investigation of demand.

To find out more on the events of CITES as it unfolded, check out our blog.

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