February 27th, 2020

Sea Shepherd Legal was honored to take part in the 13th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) from 15-22 February in Gandhinagar, India. The conference operated under the theme, “Migratory species connect the planet, and together we welcome them home.” At the Conference, Sea Shepherd Legal updated the Parties on its progress in investigating legal gaps in certain Range State legislation for the ongoing whale shark and Atlantic humpback dolphin concerted actions and pledged to provide legal support for Gabon’s proposed concerted action for guitarfish, wedgefish, and sawfish (collectively often referred to as “rhino rays”). Sea Shepherd Legal was pleased to see the CMS Parties’ acceptance of Gabon’s proposal by consensus and is prepared to assist with its implementation.

Highly migratory species include some of the planet’s most treasured and threatened wildlife. Their migrations create a unique conservation challenge: protecting them as they move between jurisdictions and across the high seas.

CMS was developed to meet this challenge. With the participation of 130 countries, threatened and endangered migratory species are listed under the Convention, thereby entitling them to special protections. For listed species also identified as requiring priority conservation measures, the CMS Parties may agree on “concerted actions” – plans of work unique to each species. Concerted action plans list Range States (States through which the species migrates) and include research and monitoring activities, threat assessments, outreach needs, and proposed changes to national legislation to provide greater protections for the target species.

Concerted Action for the Whale Shark

Whale sharks are classified as “globally endangered” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Their global population continues to decline due to national and international trade in their fins and other products, as well as directed fisheries catches, bycatch, vessel strikes, and pressure from unregulated tourism. Led by the government of the Philippines, CMS adopted a concerted action for the whale shark in 2017, including a call to “strengthen existing policies and legislation, develop new legislation where necessary, for the effective conservation of whale sharks, including measures to protect key habitats and alleviate threats.” Sea Shepherd Legal is reviewing the legislation of seven countries identified as whale shark hotspots—Gabon, Pakistan, Peru, Tanzania, Mozambique, Portugal (Azores), and Madagascar. These reports will be used as a guide to assist countries in adopting stronger protections for whale sharks.

Concerted Action for the Atlantic Humpback Dolphin

Atlantic humpback dolphins are a nearshore West African species ranging from Mauritania to Angola. However, they are already lost from large parts of that range and may have declined to a population of no more than 1,500 individuals. Principal threats to the Atlantic humpback include bycatch in small-scale fisheries, deliberate capture for consumption of aquatic wildmeat, coastal development, and the use of dolphin parts as bait in longline fisheries targeting sharks destined for the shark fin trade. CMS adopted a concerted action for the Atlantic humpback dolphin in 2017, calling for a meeting of Range States to develop a plan of action and to consider creation of transboundary marine protected areas. In a March 2019 workshop in Gabon, Sea Shepherd Legal highlighted the risks facing the Atlantic humpback dolphin in presentations to Gabonese government officials. Sea Shepherd Legal will continue to assist in this effort by reviewing the national legislation of each Range State to assess the protectiveness of current legal regimes and offer support for legal reform.

Concerted Action for "Rhino Rays"

The 13thConference of the Parties also saw Gabon successfully propose a concerted action for rhino rays. These species are listed as either “endangered” or “critically endangered” by the IUCN. Their similar habitats – shallow, warm waters with sandy bottoms – lead to similar threats. Gabon established marine protected areas covering 20 percent of its national waters – one of the largest conservation efforts in Western Africa. Gabon will be conducting a baseline biodiversity assessment of these marine areas, with a focus on rhino ray environment and abundance. Supported by results of this biodiversity assessment, SSL will work with the government of Gabon to ensure that there are sufficient legal protections for these imperiled species.

In addressing the thousands of Conference attendees concerning the Atlantic humpback dolphin concerted action, Sea Shepherd Legal Director Brett Sommermeyer emphasized the great importance of the concerted action process: “As aptly stated by a longstanding participant in the CMS process, concerted actions are the ‘engine rooms’ driving conservation once species are listed under the Convention. It is, therefore, crucial that concerted actions not only receive meaningful financial support, but also that Parties proactively and effectively participate in the implementation of those actions. Sea Shepherd Legal continues to offer its support to help ensure the success of this important process.”

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