Why New Zealand opposed further protections for mako sharks under global CITES consensus

New Zealand has opposed further protections for the world's fastest shark on the grounds the species does not meet the criteria.

Stocks of mako sharks, known as "cheetahs of the ocean", have been declining at a global level, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The status of the shortfin mako has been updated from vulnerable to endangered by the IUCN, as has its cousin, the longfin mako - both prized for their meat and fins.

Greenpeace New Zealand executive director Russel Norman said it's "hard to understand why New Zealand was opposed to increasing protections for the mako shark".

He pointed to the IUCN's research, and said New Zealand should be following their mandate.

Governments from around the world voted this week at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to strictly regulate the international trade of the sharks.

The purpose of CITES is to regulate international trade and to ensure that trade in endangered animal and plant species does not threaten their long-term survival in the wild.

Mako sharks - along with six giant guitarfish species and 10 species of wedgefish - have now been formally approved for listing on Appendix II of CITES, after a majority of nations voted in favour.

It means the species are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilisation incompatible with their survival.

CITES background says there has been a decline of 60-96 percent of mako sharks worldwide, and that up to one million are caught each year.

But New Zealand says the global population is large with over 20 million individuals estimated across a large area of the world's oceans. 

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said shortfin mako is already included in New Zealand's Quota Management System, which aims for both legal acquisition and sustainable management.

"New Zealand takes a science-based approach to CITES and the position on the shortfin mako shark proposal was formed with advice," she told Newshub.

New Zealand, Japan, the United States and Canada were among 39 countries to oppose the CITES proposal to update their protection status based on their analysis of the evidence.

The Department of Conservation is New Zealand's lead agency for CITES, and says it puts a great deal of effort into developing an objective position on listing proposals, based on the "best science available".

The Minister for Conservation Eugenie Sage.
The Minister for Conservation Eugenie Sage. Photo credit: Newshub

The department's international manager for partnerships, Sam Thomas, told Newshub its position to not support a listing was formed with advice from the New Zealand Scientific Authorities Committee.

That includes marine scientists from Fisheries New Zealand - the Ministry for Primary Industries - and the National Institute of Water at Atmospheric Research (NIWA).

He said the decision also followed consultation with Department of Conservation shark scientists.

"This position is also in line with the conclusions of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Expert Panel and the CITES Secretariat, who independently assess all marine listing proposals at CITES."

Norman said it's a "bad look" look for New Zealand.

He said it's "incomprehensible why the Department of Conservation doesn't want to protect a shark species which the IUCN says is threatened and whose numbers are dropping".

Thomas said the department prioritises species that need CITES to ensure their long-term survival, and use scientific information to determine this.

This year New Zealand took a stance on:

  • support for African elephants under Appendix I (highest level of protection)
  • support for listing giraffes under Appendix II
  • support for listing guitarfish and wedgefish, as their global population is declining
  • support for teatfish (sea cucumber)