UK Provides Ray of Hope For Basking Shark
LONDON, United Kingdom, February 27, 2001 (ENS) - The UK wants the
world’s second largest marine fish, the basking shark, protected from
international trade. Despite protection in UK waters, numbers of the
basking shark are falling rapidly around the British Isles and
The basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) grows up to 10 meters and weighs
between five and seven tonnes, making it the second largest shark in the
world. It is by far the largest fish to grace UK shores and aside from
its sheer size, it can be identified by enormous gill slits that almost
encircle the head.
With minute teeth and a single hooked cusp in its huge mouth, the
basking shark is harmless to humans.
Little else is known of the species, except that it has a slow breeding
cycle. Its fins are highly valued for culinary and medicinal purposes in
southeast Asia. Dried fins sell for around £200 (US$289) per kilo, and
particularly large fins are worth more than £10,000 (US$14,459) each.
These factors taken together with the ever present risk of landing up in
fishing nets accidentally, partly explain why the basking shark is
listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN-World Conservation Union Red List of
Now the UK wants the basking shark listed on Appendix II of the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
CITES has been signed by 152 countries. The convention requires its
signatories to protect wild populations of endangered species by banning
international trade in some of them and controlling it in others.
An Appendix II listing regulates the trade in vulnerable species by
imposing a licensing system for imports and exports. This allows trade
in the species to be monitored.
CITES bans trade in more than 800 species of animals and plants, and a
further 25,000 are strictly controlled.
For the second time, the UK will introduce the proposal for a basking
shark listing at the November 2002 CITES conference in Chile. CITES
reviews the composition of its appendices every two to three years at
At the last CITES conference in Nairobi, last April, the UK just failed
to obtain the two thirds majority required for an Appendix II listing.
The 61 percent vote in favor was the highest ever for a shark proposal
Following the failure of the Nairobi bid, the UK unilaterally placed the
basking shark on Appendix III of CITES. This means that no other CITES
party may allow the import of basking sharks or their fins from the UK
without a valid export certificate.
Any CITES party can list a species that is protected domestically on
Appendix III of CITES. Such a listing requires all CITES parties to ban
the import of that species - or products made from it - from the country
listing it, unless a valid export certificate is presented.
Following the UK’s action, the European Commission, the executive arm of
the 15 member European Union, agreed to place the basking shark on Annex
C of the European Wildlife Trade Regulations, which implement CITES in
All exports of whole basking sharks or their fins from the European
Union now require permits, and national CITES management authorities
have to be notified of any imports into the European Union.
Announcing the UK’s intentions, Monday, Environment Minister Michael
Meacher pledged a £215,000 package of research funding to fill in the
gaps in knowledge about the basking shark and to support the Appendix II
Some £70,000 will be used to boost the IUCN’s Species Survival
Commission’s Shark Specialist Group. The money will pay for a program
officer to coordinate the group’s work for three years. There are 102
specialist groups belonging to the Species Survival Commission, one of
six IUCN commissions.
The remaining £145,000 will fund research to assess population
structures, dynamics and movements of the basking shark, and will help
cut needless deaths and encourage the recovery of the species.
The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS)
will carry out the research. Both CEFAS and the Marine Biological
Association will match the government’s £145,000, creating a total
research funding package of £435,000.
For more information about the basking shark, visit the Isle of Man’s
Basking Shark Society:
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