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What is CITES by Dr. Hameed Al-Alawi

CITES is the acronym for Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. It's a treaty, signed by most countries in the world, which controls trade in any endangered species or parts thereof of Wild Fauna and Flora. If a species is listed, trade in it is controlled to ensure that international trading in such species does not threaten its survival.

How does it work?

CITES works by subjecting international trade in specimens of selected species to certain controls. All import, export, re-exports, and introduction from the sea of species covered by the convention has to be authorized through a licensing system. Each party to the convention must designate one or more management authorities in charge of administering that licensing system and one or more scientific authorities to advise them on the effects of trade on the status of the species.

The species covered by CITES are listed in three appendices, according to the degree of protection they need. For additional information on the number and type of species covered by the Convention, (click here).

How does it affect us?

The aquatic business suffers the consequences of some other source of exploitation, and extremists always seem to point the finger at the aquatic business, which could be the least of the problems. Many aquatic businesses have devoted their time and money into aquaculture; they are researching various species for breeding, and have succeeded in breeding many species that are commercially available, including some listed species such as the seahorses and corals.

At the CITES annual meetings, besides listing or de-listing species, they also discuss many other issues  such as whether or not signatory countries are truly monitoring, enforcing the quotas and limits on how many of any listed species are exported. A country that is not truly monitoring may be embargoed by other signatory countries. All this underscores how important aquaculture is and will be.

While aquacultured species are still considered and treated just like wild CITES species! How can permits be denied for aquacultured or farmed species? It is amazing to witness now a day, how many aquatic businesses and aquaculture research centres around the world, have literally hundreds of marine species that are farmed and available for sale. Well, this is good and we support such operations and you should do that too!

There are, however, a couple of clefts in the way the CITES program, is actually executed by some authorities. I have heard stories about the entire shipment being confiscated over an item which was not listed on the CITES permit, despite the fact that the item was not even identified! While some authorities have gone to the other extreme and banned collection of fish all together, and others demand a list of species with their scientific names that are to be imported for approval by them before even the shipment is packed, and this might take as long one week under normal circumstances! And bad luck if any of the items that were approved is missing or substituted on the shipments packing list when it arrives!  

Not surprisingly, even the inspectors in EU or USA do not know all the species of marine life that are exported or imported, even though they are highly qualified inspectors. Often big deals are made for errors or miss spelled documents, again the shipment will be confiscated, and you guess the rest!

It is a well known fact, that most of the reefs around the world are not damaged by the fishermen’s, collectors, and or exporters in the aquatic trades, but most reefs, in many countries including my own, are dredged to produce materials for land reclamation, which historically has played a significant role in disturbing the marine life ecosystem, often with adverse impacts, (click here) to watch the impact on Fast Al-Adhom reef in Bahrain. Industrial, urban pollution, dredging, and global warming, all remain much greater threats to the reefs.

For those of you, who wish to learn more, click here on the (CITES) website!