The governments of Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Chad, Cote D’Ivoire, Egypt, the European Union and its Member States, Gabon, Gambia, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Monaco, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Palau, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Togo and Ukraine have proposed all 6 species of giant guitarfish (Glaucostegidae) to be listed on Appendix II of CITES.
Recently, giant guitarfish have become part of a global trend of increased demand and fishing pressure for shark-like rays, who have become a significant portion of fisheries landings and targeted for their very highly valued fins in trade. This has resulted in the decimation of populations across their range. Although data is often patchy, where it is available has shown that the lack of management these species has taken a serious toll.
What are giant guitarfish?
Giant guitarfishes (and wedgefishes) are considered to be shark-like rays. The term ‘shark-like rays’ refers to 62 species from five families in the order Rhinopristiformes: the sawfishes (Pristidae),wedgefishes (Rhinidae), giant guitarfishes (Glaucostegidae), guitarfishes (Rhinobatidae), and banjo rays (Trygonorrhinidae). Their flattened body is perfectly adapted for life on the seabed, either swimming close to the bottom or resting and lying concealed within the sediments. All species are characterized by a life-history of slow growth, late maturity, and low fecundity, making them extremely susceptible to population decline from overexploitation. In fact, except for the banjo rays, the remaining four families are considered amongst the top shark and ray families most at risk of extinction.
Giant guitarfish are 6 shark-like ray species whose demand in the international trade has been found to be driving their significant population declines.
Global catches with no management
Total global catch of giant guitarfish species is largely unknown often due to misidentification and limited research effort, and this same lack of data and effort has resulted in equally limited management for the species.
Ranging from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, giant guitarfish populations are suspected to have declined up to 50% in some regions. However, most are suffering population loss ranging from 80% to localized extinctions. In Senegal, landings have dropped by 80% in 7 years-- from 4,050 tons in 1998 to 821 tons in 2005, indicating a similarly severe drop in the population of these species in the wild.
Given the data that is available, it is clear that range states cannot wait any longer to put in place management for these slow growing but highly valued species in the international trade.
An Appendix II listing on CITES
While a CITES Appendix II listing will limit the trade in giant guitarfish species to sustainable levels, it is clear that further global action will likely need to be taken.
Shark-like rays have been quietly overfished for decades, and as more studies are conducted on the overall health of their populations, it is apparent that the lack of management has caused steep declines in ther stocks over very short periods of time. By listing these species on Appendix II of CITES, it will spur the additional data collection needed to continue trade where possible—and illuminate areas where these species have been fished to near extinction and perhaps need greater domestic management.