Why is CITES important for Marine Species?

*** Update: Read about the outcomes of our proposals at CoP16.

There is a high demand for trade of marine species. Aside from the seafood business, many marine species are also commonly traded for use in aquaria, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and as ornaments. Because many marine species that are traded internationally are highly-migratory – they swim long distances often crossing national boundaries – their conservation can only be achieved by working collaboratively with other nations. CITES provides a legal framework to regulate the international trade of species to ensure their sustainability, and promotes cooperation among CITES member countries - also known as CITES Parties.

The United States is a CITES party and we work closely with our international partners in CITES to advance the conservation of marine species. Learn more about marine species listed under CITES.

Shark Conservation is a Focus this Year


Oceanic Whitetip Shark, Credit: Michael Aston CC BY-NC 2.0

This year at the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP16) several shark proposals will be considered. The United States and Brazil have co-sponsored PDF Download a Colombian proposal to include oceanic whitetip shark in CITES Appendix II. The decision to co-sponsor the proposal was based on concerns that over-exploitation for the international fin trade is negatively impacting the population status of this shark species. Learn more about oceanic whitetip sharks.

In addition to the oceanic whitetip proposal, a number of countries have submitted proposals to CoP16 to list other shark species in CITES Appendix II. Brazil, Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark on behalf of the European Union, Ecuador, Honduras and Mexico, sponsored a proposal to list three species of hammerhead sharks (scalloped, great, and smooth). A similar proposal sponsored by the European Union, Brazil, Egypt, the Comoros and Croatia would include the porbeagle shark in Appendix II of CITES. Hammerhead and porbeagle sharks are all in decline because of demand for their fins and/or meat. The United States strongly supports these shark proposals and applauds the leadership of these countries. What are the benefits of listing a marine species in CITES appendix II? Click here to learn more.


Other Marine Species of Concern


Sawfish, Credit: Forest Samuels CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In addition to sharks, rays are also getting some attention at this year’s CITES meeting. Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador co-sponsored a proposal to include manta rays in CITES Appendix II. Manta rays, overharvested to meet demand for their gill plates, are listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable globally.

An additional proposal sponsored by Australia would transfer freshwater sawfish (Pristis microdon) from Appendix II to Appendix I. Over the past half-century, sawfish populations have declined dramatically due to capture in fisheries, both as the target species and accidentally as bycatch, and habitat loss. Sawfish are also threatened by trade of their saws and fins. All sawfish species are listed as critically endangered by IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. If the Australian proposal is approved at CoP16, freshwater sawfish would join all other sawfish species in Appendix I. An Appendix I listing provides the highest level of protection under CITES by prohibiting all commercial trade. Click here to learn more about sawfish.

The United States strongly supports these manta ray and sawfish proposals and applauds the leadership of these countries.


Highlights from the Past


Manta Rays, Credit: Dez Paroz CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

  • Queen conch.  Queen conch is an example of a marine species that has benefited from being listed in Appendix II of CITES.  This species is highly prized for its meat, shells and pearls. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 1990 recognized this mollusk as commercially threatened.  CITES Parties took action and the species was listed in CITES Appendix II in 1992.  Since that time, international trade in this species has been regulated to ensure trade is legal and sustainable.  Concerns by scientific experts about the detrimental impact of trade has resulted in regional cooperation in the Caribbean wide basin for the sustainable management of this species, science-based decisions for setting export quotas, and law enforcement efforts. Click here to learn more about Queen conch.
  • Seahorses. All species of seahorse (genus Hippocampus) were listed in CITES Appendix II in 2004. Used in Asian medicine, as curios, and in the aquarium trade, seahorses are subject to overfishing. CITES Parties recommended a minimum size limit for wild-collected seahorses to discourage people from harvesting immature seahorses before they have had a chance to reproduce and contribute to the population. These trade measures are an important step toward ensuring adequate management and long-term sustainability of seahorse species. Click here to learn more about sea horses.