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Pronouncement of WWF-Ecuador after the confirmation of illegality of the cargo seized with shark fins in Hong Kong

June 1, 2020. Quito, Ecuador.- After the statements given this morning by the Ecuadorian government about the illegal origin of the 26 tons of shark fins from Ecuador seized in Hong Kong, last 28 April, WWF-Ecuador condemns this event of illegal wildlife traffic and calls the government to impose the corresponding judicial processes to punish those responsible for this crime with the full weight of the Law. WWF- Ecuador applauds the conservation measures announced today by the Vice Minister of Aquaculture and Fisheries, but also urges to continue strengthening the regulations, governance, control and monitoring measures and mechanisms, so that the traceability of the value chain of seafood is totally transparent. These actions are key for stopping the illegal trafficking of products and by-products of endangered, protected, threatened and protected shark species, and preventing this tragic event from happening again.
 
WWF-Ecuador strongly rejects illegal wildlife traffic, this does not only affects biodiversity but also generates insecurity, conflict and corruption throughout the system. Recognizing that it is a complex problem, fighting it efficiently will require the support from different government entities, non-governmental organizations, academy, the private sector and civil society at a national, regional and international level.  WWF-Ecuador reiterates its commitment to continue working for the sustainability of fisheries in Ecuador and the conservation of emblematic marine species such as sharks, through the strengthening of research and monitoring, management tools, control systems, traceability, communication and education, all of them are key aspects of Ecuador´s National Plan for Sharks Conservancy (PAT-Ec)
 
Approximately, more than 100 million of sharks are caught annually, and some of their populations have declined in more than 95%. During 2014, a quarter of the shark and ray species were facing extinction, with 25 species listed as critically endangered. In 2019, the outlook is more worrying, since they have increased in 42 critically endangered species, with red hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini) and oceanic whitetip sharks (Carcharhinus longimanus) the two species on the Red List of Species IUCN that have seen their populations shrink the most in the past 75 years. However, not all shark species are the same, and therefore the vulnerability of each species in a specific region or zone will depend on both the level of impact of the threats and their biological characteristics.
 
In Ecuador there are 68 registered shark species, 30 of them are of commercial interest and among these, there are five main species following sorted by their commercial value and they are the thresher shark (Alopias pelagicus), blue shark (Prionace glauca), silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis), fox shark (Alopias superciliosus) , and hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini and Sphyrna zygaena).
 
These species, which are the ones that appear the most frequently disembarked in Ecuador’s share some similarities: they are predators located at the top of trophic levels and, therefore, are key pieces in the balance of marine ecosystems and the health of our commercial fisheries. Sharks also have long life cycles and very low reproduction rates, which means that they have a very low capacity to recover their stocks when they are impacted by overfishing. These oceanic animals are highly migratory species, in that sense,  the unilateral measures that a nation could adopt will be insufficient, hence it is very important to reach agreements with other countries to cooperate in the design of measures for their conservation at a regional level, working with fisheries management organizations, such as the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC).
 
The threats to the populations of these shark species are overfishing, caused by Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated (IUU) fishery, directed fishery and bycatch; the destruction of their habitats during early stages of their life cycle; and changes in the sea temperature as a consequence of climate change. The increasing demand from international markets accentuates fisheries’ pressure on these species. In recent decades,  the excessive rise of Asian demand for shark fins has contributed to referred pressure on cited species. Although this impact has not been directly assessed in the region, according to in a recent study carried out with molecular techniques, outcomes point that most of the shark fins marketed in Hong Kong come from the Eastern Pacific Ocean EPO.
 
Regarding the threat that international markets represent, it is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that Ecuador makes part of, responsible for securing and regulating that international trade in wildlife specimens does not pose a threat to their survival. For this reason, CITES categorizes species into three appendices, with different degrees of protection for each appendix. Ecuador has ten species of sharks listed in Appendix II, and five of them are of greatest commercial interest. In order to export the fins or meat of these species, it is necessary for a National CITES Scientific Authority to issue a certificate called the Non-Harmful Extraction Opinion (DENP). This certificate establishes the quantities of products or by-products that can be addressed to export without jeopardizing those species’ stocks.
 
Since 2006, Ecuador counts on a National Sharks Conservation Plan, a management instrument that guarantees and focus efforts at a national level, to achieve sustainable management of shark species and rays in the country. In the last 12 years, this plan has been twice assessed and updated, making this a regional and global milestone. Some of Ecuador´s current regulatory and traceability mechanisms are the prohibition of directed shark fishing, prohibiting the use of steel or steel cable. In addition, finning is banned in the country, that compels the landing of entire individuals with their fins naturally attached to the body. This ensures that individuals can be monitored and tracked upon disembarking, and also that the captured shark can be exploited, as established by law.
 
On the other hand, bycatch and the subsequent commercialization of shark is regulated and allowed, as long as it is documentary supported. The exceptions to this rule are established by Executive Decree 486 that protects certain vulnerable species such as the white shark, whale shark, basking shark, completely prohibiting their fishing, whether directed or incidental. According to the Ministerial Agreement 116, hammerhead sharks are protected and regulation establishes the ban of capture, disembarking and commercialization from industrial and mothership fleet, but allows bycatch, up to five individuals for artisanal boats with a maximum size of 150 cm.
 
Despite the fact that Ecuador has a current regulatory framework for management, monitoring programs, and relevant traceability mechanisms becoming a model for the region, it is still necessary to review, update, and strengthen these measures, as well as the coordination and capacity to fight illegal trafficking of vulnerable, threatened and endangered shark species.
 
Considering what has been previously stated regarding the national, regional and international context for shark conservation, WWF-Ecuador urges the competent authorities to act to stop the illegal trafficking of vulnerable, threatened and endangered shark species, and guarantee their conservation through the following recommendations:
 
● Update and strengthen conservation measures by establishing an export ban for species listed by IUCN as Critically Endangered: Scalloped hammerhead shark (S. lewini) and oceanic whitetip shark (C. longimanus); and include other related species based on national landing statistics (other hammerhead shark species).

● Design a strategy for the rest of the species listed in Appendix II of CITES (Carcharhinus falciformis, Alopias superciliosus and Alopias vulpinus) and especially, for those ranked by IUCN as Endangered: pelagic thresher shark (A. pelagicus), shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrhinchus) and longfin mako shark (Isurus paucus); given the evidence of a notable decline in their landing volumes in national statistics.

● Urgently activate the Scientific Advisory Committee of the National Plan for Ecuador’s Sharks Conservation National Plan as soon as possible, to take over, among other tasks, leading processes to update the DENPs for silky sharks and thresher shark, and to prepare DENPs for shortfin mako shark, hammer and broadfin shark. These documents are key to regulate exports and ensuring that these species are maintained under normal conditions throughout their range.

● Strengthen mechanisms to guarantee traceability, monitoring and control programs. Among them, reactivate the shark DNA laboratory of the Undersecretariat of Fisheries SRP, granted  by WWF with NOAA support, to  firm up controls.

● To fund programs and generate mechanisms that encourage technological innovation in the design of fishing gears (for example, LED lights in gillnets), in order to turn them into selective tolls reducing shark bycatch.

● To promote awareness and education about the importance of marine species conservation and the implications of illegal trafficking, and motivate responsible consumption of fishery products.

● In order to increase the effectiveness and efficiency in Law compliance, Government Agencies responsible for control (Fishing, Environment, Customs, Navy and Police) should harmonize policies and coordinate actions.

● Identification, creation, and management of corridors that guarantee  protection of critical habitats and sharks connectivity.

● To be proactive and lead regionally, presenting conservation proposals for hammerhead sharks and silky sharks at IATTC to protect them.

To promote regional cooperation to reduce impact of artisanal fisheries on sharks, and establish efficient monitoring mechanisms such as those implemented by PAT-Ec in Ecuador.

● To promote formal agreements between Ecuador’s National Customs  Service and their peers  of those countries that mostly import sharks (Hong Kong, Peru, etc.), so they may become proactive players that exchange and manage information for control purposes.
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