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Wednesday, 19 April, 2000, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
Further shark controls rejected
Basking PA
A basking shark can grow up to 10 metres long
Endangered sharks will not get any extra protection after a UN conference failed to push through tougher controls to regulate the trade in the fish.

A conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, supported measures proposed by Australia, the US and the UK, but not with the two-thirds majority required for their adoption.

Environmentalists warned the decision would further depress populations of the great white shark, the basking shark, and the whale shark, which at 18 metres (60 feet) in length is the world's largest fish.

The green groups say these creatures, currently listed as "vulnerable" on the World Conservation Union Red List of Threatened Species, are being hunted to provide large markets for shark fins and other shark products.

They accused the fishing industry of putting undue pressure on Asian and Latin American nations to block the proposals.

"It was the pressure of the fishing lobby. They brought all their countries in line," said Peter Pueschel of Greenpace International.

'Flawed information'

But opponents to the higher listing argued it would be difficult for fishermen to avoid catching specific species of sharks and that none of the three was in danger of extinction.

"The information is fatally flawed," one Japanese delegate said during the debate, adding that any nations concerned about shark populations in their waters should protect them properly without asking Cites to do the job for them.

"If trophy hunting is the problem, why don't you control it? If bycatch (from commercial fishing) is the problem, why don't you control it?" he added.

The Cites conference has thrown out a request to reopen the trade in tortoiseshell. This comes almost exclusively from the hawksbill turtle, which the World Conservation Union describes as critically endangered.

The countries that had been urging a trade resumption were Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

Once again, a majority of Cites delegates were in favour of the move but a two-thirds majority was not achieved. 66 nations voted in favour, 38 voted against and 15 abstained.

It is possible, however, that Cuba will attempt to bring back a proposal to the conference on Wednesday or Thursday of this week. This would permit, if passed, a one-off auction of shells at some future date.

Hawksbills can weigh up to 60 kg (132 lbs) in weight and their shells are elaborately patterned with streaks of amber, yellow and brown, making them the most sought after of the world's seven species of marine turtle.

hawksbill WWF
Cuba is still pressing for hawksbills to be traded again

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See also:

25 Oct 99 | Sci/Tech
Better news for basking sharks
04 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
Asian turtle crisis
27 Aug 99 | Sci/Tech
Turtles in the soup
17 Apr 00 | World
Two-year freeze on ivory trade
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