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Wednesday, 13 November, 2002, 15:40 GMT
Setback for sharks
Basking shark, PA
UK scientists are now tagging basking sharks
The UK Government is fighting to get international agreement to restrict the trade in basking shark products.


I have not given up hope yet

Elliot Morley, UK's nature protection minister
A committee at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in Chile has narrowly voted to keep the basking shark off the so-called Appendix 2 list of animals and plants needing better protection.

Being on this list would put some limits on catches of what is the biggest fish in British waters.

Basking sharks are threatened by hunters who can sell their two-metre-long fins for as much as $15,000 as trophies in restaurants and the homes of the wealthy, primarily in Asia.

A full meeting of the convention will take a final decision at the end of the week.

Click here for BBC Nature facts about basking sharks.

Two votes

Although the animal is protected in UK waters, other parts of the world give it no special status.

The UK proposal presented to the Cites meeting in Santiago received 72 votes in favour and 38 against. There needed to be a two-thirds majority for the motion to be carried and the UK bid fell by just two votes.

Hard lobbying will be required to overturn the committee's decision.

Britain's nature protection minister Elliot Morley said: "I am obviously very, very disappointed with the vote, but, as it was so close, I am looking into the possibility of raising it again in tomorrow's plenary session. I have not given up hope yet.

"I am also very pleased that we have got so much support from other countries - we just need that little bit extra to save [the shark] from possible extinction."

Much to learn

The Cites committee stage has also rejected a similar proposal to give better protection to the whale shark, which is the only fish bigger than the basking.

This animal is also threatened by hunters. Convention delegates voted 62-34 in favour of a bid put forward by India and the Philippines to tighten trade in the species, but, again, this result fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to get it through.

Efforts will also be made to overturn the whale shark decision before the Cites meeting closes.

Scientists confess they have much to learn about both the basking and the whale shark.

The basking can grow up to 10 metres long, and weighs between five and seven tonnes. It feeds only on plankton, which it catches by filtering about 2,000 cubic metres of water an hour through its gill rakers.

Whale sharks are also docile plankton feeders but inhabit warmer waters. They can grow up to 20 metres in length and can migrate as far as 20,000 km at a time.

UK scientists have started tagging basking sharks to find out more about these creatures' lives.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Peter Greste
"Their meat, oil and fins are all in high demand"
See also:

10 Sep 02 | Leicester 2002
25 Feb 01 | Science/Nature
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