Mexican sharks in danger of extinction


At a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Bangkok two weeks ago, the required two-thirds of the 177 member countries voted to add five shark species and two manta ray species to their protected list. Susan Lieberman, the director of international environment policy at The Pew Charitable Trusts called it “the most significant day for the ocean in the 40-year history of CITES.” Most of these endangered marine species (white tip sharks, hammerheads and manta rays) inhabit or migrate through waters off the coast of Mexico.


“There was once a very famous hammerhead shark migration that began every spring in the Baja California peninsula. It no longer happens,” laments Rodrigo Medellín, a scientist at UNAM’s Ecology Institute in a recent Proceso article. “In Asian countries, shark fin soup is a delicacy. If you think about how many Chinese people there are and how their cuisine has spread around the world, it becomes clear that sharks are illegally, secretly hunted; it’s a shame since sharks don’t reproduce fast enough or have enough young to be considered an inexhaustible resource. Since they’ve now emptied Asian waters, they are turning toward us and coming to fish in our waters.”

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), approximately 17% of sharks and related species qualify as threatened, and 13% as near threatened. “The rising demand for shark fins, shark meat, gill plates, and aquarium animals is seriously threatening the survival of these species, according to IUCN. Up to 1.2 million Oceanic Whitetip Sharks, which are fished for their large and distinctive fins, pass through the markets of Southeast Asia every year and over 4,000 manta rays are harpooned for their gills.”

Medellín has a dire outlook on Mexico’s marine habitats and species; he believes incompetence and lack of long-term planning on the part of the government’s environmental agencies is partly to blame, but he is also concerned about educating consumers. “There is so much to do. There is this attitude of ‘I don’t care where my food comes from.’ People don’t ask. Where does their fish, their shrimp, their octopus come from?”

I haven’t been able to find a Mexico-specific list of environmentally friendly seafood options, but if you want to be better informed in general about which fish to eat and which to avoid, you can check out the very comprehensive information provided by the Blue Ocean Institute, or download the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Buyer’s Guide.  As Medellín points out: “All the evidence we have at the moment indicates that we are absolutely over-exploiting the oceans…For now, I support the initiatives that call for regulation of fishing, respect for the laws and for seasonal bans, and that we begin efforts to protect our resources. Being realistic, it’s clear to me that this has to be the starting point, but until there is a better awareness or understanding of the magnitude of the problem, there is no way out.”



The Pew Charitable Trusts, Pew Applauds Unprecedented Conservation Win for Sharks and Manta Rays at CITES (Mar 13)

Proceso, Desprotegido, se extingue el tiburón en México (Mar 22)

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Sharks, Rhinos and Elephants among wildlife trade summit winners (Mar 14)