CITES officially meets once every three years to consider adding new species onto its list. Prior to the conference, it reviews thousands of proposals to protect an individual plant or animal species in trouble. Only enough proposals are selected that can be realistically addressed and voted on by the member states during its 2-week conference. So, for instance, during the last conference, only 40 species of plants and animals made it onto the agenda. The lobbying reigns supreme and species protection is a complex matter of politics often driven by ulterior motives and under the table deals – not which animal or plants are most deserved.
Last conference, two shark species were considered, spiny dogfish and porbeagle. Their acceptance was blocked by a minority of countries, despite severe population declines in the North Atlantic by up to 95 per cent for the spiny dogfish and 89 per cent for the porbeagle, in the last ten and forty years, respectively.
CITES is a valuable organization, but its process hardly results in a comprehensive listing of endangered species or an efficient means of broad protection. Another organization, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which started CITES, is widely recognized as the organization that provides a more accurate view. IUCN relies on the scientific assessment of species and is not encumbered by international politics and reports over 1/3 of shark populations are threatened with extinction.
CITES protection doesn’t ensure animals are protected. Whale, basking and white shark fins and other products are still being sold on the market even as you read this. Of course, with an Appendix II listing, trade of these products is allowed – but regulated; exporting countries must supply traders with the proper permits. Even if sharks were on Appendix I – it is still up to each individual country to enforce CITES, which is problematic (see below.) Like any other extinction trade species, a significant black market exists for shark products. Only until there is no demand will the supply stop.