Population Matters

Death Row Reprieve for Porbeagle Shark

March 24th, 2010

Juliet Eilpern, a reporter for the Washington Post, has been in Doha, Qatar, for the past several days reporting on the latest deliberations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  She reports that “ocean advocates are becoming so disillusioned with the Doha conservation conference they’ve started calling it “No-ha.” While the porbeagle shark got a potential reprieve from death row, seven other shark species, including three varieties of hammerhead sharks, failed to get the two-thirds majority required for protective status. Earlier, the conferees rejected any trade protections for red and pink coral, polar bears, and bluefin tuna.

CITES is attacked by environmental groups as being unduly dominated by the narrow commercial interests of the nations represented at the conference. That’s certainly a fair criticism.  In much of East Asia today, shark fin has become both a delicacy and a highly profitable industry. As a result, Japan and other nations fight efforts to trim the trade in sharks.  On the other hand, the Kaiser’s spotted newt, an Iranian salamander, gets a reprieve.  Its numbers are so low–below a thousand–that it has lost its large scale commercial value.  Before the porbeagle shark got its protected status this week, its numbers had to decline by more than 80 percent.

Lost in all the debate over the endangered species is the recognition that growing human numbers, more than our dietary preferences, are the real culprit.  Last year, when I visited the Seattle Aquarium I was handed a card that provided a long list of fish that were “okay” to eat, “not okay” to eat, or somewhere in between.  In reviewing the list, I couldn’t help wondering how long it would take, particularly if everyone followed the recommendations, for some of the “okay’ fish to join the “not okay” list.  As long as people demand fish and we keep adding another billion people to the planet every 11 or 12 years, it’s only a matter of time before all of the “okay” fish join the list of extinct and endangered species.

In response to the Population Institute’s call for a Global Population Speak Out in February of this year, the Center for Biological Diversity in Arizona began distributing 100,000 free condoms packaged with artistic portrayals of six animals – the polar bear, jaguar, American burying beetle, snail darter, coquí guajón rock frog and spotted owl.  The point behind the campaign is an important one.  As CBD’s Randy Serraglio explained it, “Most biologists agree that we have begun the sixth mass extinction event in the Earth’s history. What separates this one from earlier events is that it is being driven by a single species – humans. All the direct threats to the earth’s biodiversity – land-use changes due to urban sprawl and commercial development, environmental contamination, competition for water and other resources, climate change, and so on – are driven by human overpopulation.”

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

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