Panama conference backs 'historic' plan to regulate global shark trade

PANAMA CITY, Nov 17 (Reuters) - A global convention on the trade of endangered species on Thursday backed a Panama-led proposal to expand the regulation of the trade of the fins and meat to cover more than 50 species of Requiem sharks.

The motion passed with 88 votes in favor, 29 against and 17 abstentions in a secret ballot after over two hours of heated debate at the 19th conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), taking place in Panama City.

The plan, which covers 19 species which are already endangered or critically endangered, marks a first regulatory action for the global trade of Requiem sharks, primarily fished for their fins used in shark-fin soup - a delicacy in Asian markets.

Countries will have 12 months to prepare for the change.

Luke Warwick, associate director at the Wildlife Conservation Society's shark and rays program, called the decision "historic" as it would improve sustainable trade, traceability and combat trafficking.

"Before this decision around 25% of sharks subject to the fin trade were protected," he said. "With this about 70% of sharks will be protected and countries will have to take measures for proper management."

During the debate, Japan had pushed to include just 19 of the most endangered species, and Peru sought to exclude the blue shark. Both proposals were rejected.

A European Union-led proposal to protect hammerhead sharks was also unanimously approved during the meeting.

Reporting by Elida Moreno; Writing by Sarah Morland; Editing by William Mallard

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