The decline and disappearance of sharks and rays is both a biodiversity loss and a threat to the livelihoods of the fishers and other users, including the dive tourism industry, for whom these species are a resource.
In 2013, the 178 government members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) agreed to regulate the trade in several seven sought-after shark and ray species, including the mantas. The support of so many countries marked a milestone for sharks and for marine conservation more generally.
This fall, conservationists will reconvene at another global CITES meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa. WCS and many of its partners will be supporting proposals to include silky and thresher sharks, along with devil rays and ocellate river stingrays, in CITES Appendix II.
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Appendix II includes species that although currently not threatened with extinction, may become so without trade controls, as well as species that resemble those to minimize such trade.
In the meantime, the global community must commit the resources -- political, technical, and financial -- to safeguard the future of sharks and rays. That means adopting laws and regulations specific to these fishes, putting in place trade controls and fisheries management measures and effective monitoring, engaging fishers and other users, as well as initiating species recovery efforts.
Here in the United States, the legislation introduced by Sen. Booker and his colleagues can help to shed light on the plight of sharks and rays by addressing one of the key threats to these species globally.
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We look forward to continue building on this legislation to ensure that we address the broad array of threats faced by these fishes that have captured the imagination of so many.
Shark Week is an opportunity to remind our elected leaders that the U.S. must strengthen its leadership in improving the management of shark and ray populations globally. But it is also a time to remember that we must be better caretakers of the natural world around us.
And while Shark Week may provide the opportunity to revisit Steven Spielberg's classic film about a certain great white shark terrifying a quaint New England beach community, keep this in mind:
We can always get a bigger boat. There's only one planet earth.
John F. Calvelli, @JohnCalvelli, is Executive Vice President for Public Affairs at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).