Conservationists are celebrating a landmark ruling at a major wildlife summit that for the first time will regulate the global trade in shark fins, which is being driven by the insatiable appetite for shark fin soup.

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The unsustainable trade in shark fins results in the deaths of millions of sharks every year and is pushing many species to the edge of extinction.

The historic decision was taken at the recent meeting in Panama of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora or CITES.

The CITES COP19 (19th conference of the parties) summit voted to limit or regulate the commercial trade in 54 shark species of the requiem family of sharks which includes the tiger, bull and blue sharks that are the most targeted species for the fin trade. The new regulations will cover over 85 per cent of all sharks threatened by the shark fin trade.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) most requiem sharks are threatened with extinction.

“Cracking down on the trade of fins from unsustainable or illegal sources is a key action,” says Ali Hood from The Shark Trust. “It is one element of a necessary suite of measures to address the demands that drive overfishing: the overarching threat to sharks and rays.”

However, despite the crackdown on the shark fin trade, campaigners say that the booming trade in shark meat now requires action.

“With the decline in previous target species such as tuna and swordfish and issues of food security, sharks are increasingly retained for their meat, among other products,” adds Hood.

“In order to effectively deliver for sharks, we need to twin trade regulation with fisheries management, wildlife treaties such as CITES and the high seas fisheries management bodies.”

As apex predators sharks are at the top of the oceanic food chain and are crucial for the functioning of healthy marine ecosystems.

The growing shark fin and meat trade is putting shark populations at risk. Research suggests that tens of millions of sharks are killed every year leading to population declines of more than 70 per cent in the last 50 years.

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Main image: The tiger shark is one of the most targeted species for the fin trade. © Divepic/Getty

Authors

Simon Birch is an award-winning freelance journalist who has specialised in environmental and ethically themed features for 20 years. He regularly contribute to a wide range of national newspapers and magazines.

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