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Director's Corner

Dan Ashe served as FWS Director from June 2011 until January 2017. The following is an archive of blogs authored by Director Ashe during that time. This content is intended for historical reference only and not as a representation of current Service policy or opinion.

CITES: Fighting Illegal Wildlife Trade, Ensuring Sustainable Legal Trade

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I am in Bangkok, Thailand, this week for the 16th meeting of the Conference of Parties (CoP16) for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, which started Sunday. CITES is an international treaty on wildlife trade that helps ensure that trade does not threaten species’ survival in the wild.

CITES was signed by 21 nations in Washington, DC, on March 3, 1973. Later that same year – on December 28 – the Endangered Species Act (ESA) became law.

Both are celebrating their 40th anniversaries this year, and the world’s wildlife has been the big beneficiary.

Forty years after its signing, CITES has 178 member nations working to protect more than 34,000 species of plants and animals. Astonishing!

The ESA helps us implement CITES here at home. And thanks to the ESA, and citizens who believe in global conservation, the United States has been, and continues to be, a world leader in species and ecosystem conservation. 

CoP16 will be no different.

• Learn more about CITES in the winter 2013 edition of Fish & Wildlife News
Service's CoP16 site

The United States, along with China and Vietnam, will take a stand for many Asian turtles. Tortoises and freshwater and terrestrial turtles are the world’s most endangered vertebrates. They’re sought after as food, medicine, pets and more, and they need CITES protection.

The Asian turtle proposal marks the first time that we have ever made a proposal jointly with China. I am excited by that. I think we are seeing a spirit and partnership of conservation emerging between United States and China.

As readers of this blog know, the United States has proposed additional trade restrictions on the polar bear. We know that a warming climate poses the biggest threat to polar bears. But trade in polar bears is growing, and we hope to keep that trade from adding to the polar bears’ struggle.

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We are also taking a stand for sharks. Their fins can fetch up to $100 a pound in international trade and are used to make shark fin soup. Shark meat is also eaten, and shark parts are used in medicine. Manta rays are sought after for their gill plates, which are used in traditional medicine. With low reproductive rates, some sharks and all rays just can’t handle the consumer demand. That’s why the United States is co-sponsoring with Colombia and Brazil a proposal to give oceanic whitetip sharks more trade protections. We will also support proposals by other countries to bring CITES restrictions to four other shark species –  porbeagle, scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead, smooth hammerhead – and all manta rays.

And we are working with musicians and the music industry on a plan to create a passport system for musical instruments. Just like you or I have a personal passport that we carry with us, musicians would have a passport for their instrument. It would make it easier to travel with an instrument that has legal ivory, Brazilian rosewood or tortoiseshell.

Be sure to visit our CITES CoP16 page. We’ll keep it updated with the latest news and information. CoP16 offers the U.S. and countries around the world a real chance to help the native species and ecosystems of our planet. Let’s hope we do.


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