The most exciting recent development in policy support is the listing of 8 species of elasmobranchs on the Appendix II of the Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok in March 2013.
These listings were supported by the Belize government. The species whose international trade will now need to be monitored and regulated include three hammerheads species (including the scalloped and great hammerheads, Sphyrna spp.), ocean whitetips (Carcharhinus longimanus), giant and reef mantas (Manta spp.), the porbeagle (Lamna nasus) and the upgraded listing to Appendix II of the freshwater sawfish (Pristis microdon, recently revised taxonomicaly as P. pristis).
CITES requirements in regulating trade of hammerheads, oceanic whitetips and porbeagles will come into effect 18 months after the listing (September 2014) to allow the Scientific Authorities in range country to establish non detriment findings and mechanisms to oversee trade and exports to ensure that it is being conducted in a manner that does not impact the sustainability of listed species.
The Belize Government passed a new set of legislation in July 2011 which establishes a ban on the capture of nurse sharks, a limit on the number and size of nets per boat (3 nets of no more than 100m long per boat), a no-finning policy that extends to high seas vessels registered in Belize, and a closed season to shark fishing from August 31 to October 31st. We are currently assisting the Fisheries Department with outreach pertaining to the ban on capture of nurse sharks and the seasonal closure of the shark fishery.
In 2011, the Regional Organisation for Fisheries and Aquaculture (OSPESCA) developed a regional shark strategy and action plan for sharks to standardize landings data collection and management actions for sharks.
In December of the same year, with representative countries and selected invited organisations (including WCS/BSP), OSPESCA cemented a regional ban on finning throughout Central America and subsequently tabled a proposal for the regional ban on capture or harm to whale sharks (Rhincodon typus).
Working with the Department of Fisheries on policy measures for sharks at an international level has included information on the need for supporting a policy where fins remain attached to the body of sharks when the animals are landed at processing centers or at markets (referred to as the fins-on policy). This is being promoted by several countries worldwide, with a notable proposal from Belize recently submitted during the November 2010 meeting of the International Commission to Conserve Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).
The fins-attached policy is essential to counter shark finning, a wasteful form of fishing practiced worldwide where fins are removed, often from live animals, and the body/carcass is thrown back in the sea. We hope that the fins attached policy will be voted in during the next ICCAT meeting.
In the meantime, Belize agreed to not engage in the commercialisation and international trade in two hammerhead species listed on the IUCN Red list of Threatened Species as Endangered: the scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) and the great hammerhead (S. mokarran).