PH goes full blast on campaign to include 2 shark species in CMS appendices

The Philippines has gone all out with its campaign to give further protection to two shark species – whale shark and white-spotted wedgefish – at an international conference current ly being held in the country.

In a forum, Environment Undersecretary Jonas Leones presented the country’s proposal for the uplisting and listing of the whale shark and white-spotted wedgefish, respectively, in the appendices of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, or simply CMS.

The forum, entitled “Leading Shark Conservation: Shark Species Proposals for CMS,” was part of the 12th Session of Conference of Parties to the CMS held at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City from October 23 to 28. Over 1,000 delegates from over 120 nations are attending the meeting, dubbed as world's largest wildlife conference in 2017.

The Philippines has been vigorously pushing for the uplisting of the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), locally known as butanding, to Appendix I of the CMS.

Appendix I consists of migratory species that have been assessed as facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future. Signatory states are encouraged to protect these animals, conserve or restore the habitats in which they live, remove obstacles to migration and control other factors that might endanger them.

Under the country’s proposal, the whale shark’s inclusion in Appendix II shall remain pending its uplisting. Appendix II covers migratory species that have unfavorable conservation status and that require international agreements for their conservation and management.

In his presentation, Leones said the whale shark has been very important to the country’s culture and economy, which is no wonder its image is depicted at the back of the 100-peso bill.

“It was the first shark species that was nationally protected in the Philippines. This helped our whale shark watching industry grow,” Leones added.

The DENR official revealed that in 2016, the 1,000th whale shark had been identified in Philippine waters, making the country “the third largest known aggregation of whale sharks in the world and the biggest in Southeast Asia.”

Whale sharks, however, are under threat from fishing and tourism activities and pollution, as well as non-existent protection in countries which are not parties to the CMS.

“An Appendix I listing is expected to lead to an increased attention to legislative protection in range states, and heightened awareness to support conservation efforts on whale sharks,” Leones pointed out.

The country is proposing the inclusion in Appendix II of the white-spotted wedgefish, which has been classified as “vulnerable” in the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN.

According to Leones, the wedgefish has been recently considered endangered because its local population has declined from 50 to 80 percent over the last 30 years.

The DENR official attributed the decline to overfishing or by-catch fisheries, especially since its fins are considered “extremely valuable in international trade,” being sold for as much as US$1,000 per kilogram.

The white-spotted wedgefish is a highly mobile species that has been recorded across the waters of Southeast Asia and Australia.

“This is the first time that the wedgefish is receiving the conservation attention it deserves,” said Leones.

“Without this listing, there is a risk of the population declining even further. We cannot let go of this opportunity,” he added. #