Shark lovers worldwide praised the results of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok yesterday. The two-week conference, which takes place every three years, ended by implementing strict new regulations on the global shark fin trade.
"But who cares?" you might ask.
Besides everyone who ever watched Shark Week, the answer is simple: these CITES measures are important for anyone interested in wildlife, conservation, fish, fins, sharp teeth, revenge for Samuel L. Jackson, or the well-being of planet Earth in general.
Since its 1973 inception, CITES has functioned as an "agreement ... [to] ensure that international trade in ... wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival." 178 countries participate, and this year discussed 70 different proposals. Topics included limits placed on the trade in turtles and tortoises, rhino horns, ivory, and the listing of hundreds of timber species, such as the lovely Thai rosewood.
In other words, CITES is a two-week frat party.
But yesterday's sexiest topic was shark finning. According to Al Jazeera, an estimated 100 million sharks are killed every year for their fins. 90% of the global shark population has been decimated due to overfishing in the past century. And despite heavy regulations now placed on trade in 35,000 other animal species, shark hunting continues to be a lucrative business.
Much of the blame is attributable to soup. In China, shark fin has been a delicacy since the Ming dynasty, a luxury only affordable in upper crust circles. It remains a status symbol to this day, but the country's recent economic boom has led to significant middle class growth, meaning more people can afford it. As a result, more sharks are dying at a faster pace.
At the conference, CITES introduced a new permit system designed to significantly regulate trade in five shark species. Countries have 18 months to comply. Yet criticism has since been directed at various loopholes these measures present, and conservationists insist that anything short of a global ban is insufficient if any real impact is expected.
The verdict seems to be that these new laws are imperfect, but important.
It's hard to argue with the facts: according to estimates, over 140 shark species (or 55%) are in danger of extinction either now or in the near future. That it's taken so long to implement aggressive legislation to regulate their trade is problematic for conservationists. The importance of protecting the ocean's ecosystem goes without saying, and the topics covered at CITES this year fall neatly into recent narratives surrounding pressing environmental concerns.
Aside from these, however, take a moment to consider a world without sharks.
Our cultural language would be significantly crippled if sharks didn't exist. So the next time the topic arises (as it inevitably will), tell your shark fin-eating "friends" that there are plenty of other food options out there.
But there aren't many sharks left. Conduct yourselves accordingly.