Because the trade in wild animals and plants crosses borders between countries, the effort to regulate it requires international cooperation to safeguard certain species from over-exploitation. CITES was conceived in the spirit of such cooperation. Today, it accords varying degrees of protection to more than 30,000 species of animals and plants, whether they are traded as live specimens, fur coats or dried herbs.
CITES member countries act by banning commercial international trade in an agreed list of endangered species and by regulating and monitoring trade in others that might become endangered. It has established a world-wide system of controls on international trade in threatened wildlife and wildlife products by stipulating that government permits are required for such trade. Protection is provided for species in two main categories:
The most endangered species
Appendix I: Includes all species threatened with extinction which are or may be affected by trade.
Other species at serious risk
Appendix II: a) Includes all species which although not necessarily currently threatened with extinction may become so unless trade is subject to strict regulation; and
b) Other species which must be subject to regulation in order that trade in certain specimens of species referred to in sub- paragraph (a) above may be brought under effective control, i.e, species similar in appearance.
Appendix III: All species which any Party identifies as being subject to regulation within its jurisdiction for the purpose of preventing or restricting exploitation. The cooperation of other Parties, is therefore, needed.
To date, the role of CITES in aquatic fisheries has been relatively minor and there are only 8 fish species listed on Appendix 1 and 28 species listed on Appendix 2 out of totals for each appendix of more than 500 and 4 000 animals respectively. Nonetheless, CITES has had significant impact with some non-fish species important either as targeted species in marine harvesting activities or taken as bycatch in fisheries. For example, a number of whale species and stocks are listed on Appendix 1, as are all marine turtle species.
In recent years, there has, however, been discussion about an increasing role of CITES in terms of fish and fisheries and during the 10th Session of the CITES Conference of Parties in 1997 (Harare, Zimbabwe) a proposal was tabled for a Working Group for Marine Species. In motivating this proposal, supporters stated that some marine fish species subject to large-scale commercial harvesting and international trade currently qualify for inclusion in CITES Appendices. Other members are concerned about such an increasing role for CITES and have the view that other inter-governmental organizations such as regional fisheries bodiess and FAO should have the responsibility for conservation of species exploited by fisheries in marine and large freshwater bodies.
A recent CITES conference held in November 2002 ended with tighter trade controls agreed including sharks, sea horses and turtles.