The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna & Flora (CITES)

CITES is an international agreement between governments that regulates trade. With 183 member states (‘Parties’), CITES provides a framework for monitoring and controlling trade in wild animals and plants, so as not to threaten their survival.

Over 35,000 species of plants and animals (covering specimens, products, and derivatives) are listed under CITES, including 28 species of sharks and rays. By regulating trade in species that cross international borders (on land and at sea), CITES can be a valuable tool in reducing over-exploitation and driving national management plans.

This system seeks to ensure international trade in listed species is sustainable, legal, and traceable.

Species are proposed for listing by a Party on one of three Appendices.

  • APPENDIX I – International commercial trade is prohibited except in exceptional circumstances. Includes species threatened with extinction.

  • APPENDIX II – Trade is controlled under specific conditions. Species are not necessarily threatened with extinction at this time.

  • APPENDIX III – A certificate of origin is required to trade. Species are protected in at least one country, which has asked other CITES Parties for help in controlling trade.


The Conference of the Parties (CoP) is usually held once every three years, with interim Committee sessions.

Proposals for listing are submitted by Parties in advance and then discussed during the CoP. If a consensus isn't reached, each proposal is then subject to a vote where it must be supported by a two thirds majority. If adopted, CITES Parties may have a grace period to implement the new international trade obligations.



  • Sawfishes (All 5 species: Narrow, Dwarf, Smalltooth, Green, and Largetooth) - all listed on App I by 2013


  • Basking Shark – listed in 2002 (previously listed on App III in 2000)

  • Whale Shark – listed in 2002

  • White Shark – listed in 2004 (previously listed on App III in 2001)

  • Porbeagle - listed in 2013

  • Oceanic Whitetip Shark - listed in 2013

  • Hammerheads (3 species: Great, Scalloped, and Smooth hammerheads) - listed in 2013

  • Manta Rays (2 species: Giant and Reef Manta) - listed in 2013

  • Devil Rays Mobula spp. (9 species: Sicklefin, Spinetail, Shortfin, Giant, Bentfin, Smoothtail, Atlantic, Lesser Guinean, and Pygmy Devil Rays) - listed in 2016

  • Thresher sharks (All 3 species: Bigeye, Common, and Pelagic threshers) - listed in 2016

  • Silky Shark - listed in 2016


The 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP18) to CITES, is 17-28 August 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Three elasmobranch proposals will be considered for listing on Appendix II, covering 18 species.

  • PROPOSAL 42, mako sharks - Shortfin Mako are proposed for listing, with Longfin Mako included as a look-alike species.

  • PROPOSAL 43, Giant Guitarfishes - Blackchin Guitarfish and the Sharpnose Guitarfish, with 4 additional Giant Guitarfishes included as look-alike species (Giant, Halavai, Clubnose, and Widenose Guitarfish).

  • PROPOSAL 44, Wedgefishes – Bottlenose Wedgefish and Whitespotted Wedgefish, with the remaining 8 included as look-alike species (Bowmouth Guitarfish, False Shark Ray, Clown, Smoothnose, Taiwanese, Broadnose, Eyebrow, and African Wedgefish).

We’ll be at CITES CoP18 with our Global Shark and Ray Initiative (GSRI) colleagues and other partners working in support of the new proposals and implementation of existing listings.

The Shark Trust’s overarching conservation goals are reflected in our work at CITES:

  1. SPECIES PROTECTION - protection of endangered species through legislation and effective conservation action;

  2. RESPONSIBLE TRADE - promoting responsible trade and reducing demand for non-sustainable shark products; and linking to the need for...



Complementary fishing limits and measures to reduce incidental catch are key to effective species conservation.

While CITES does not directly affect shark mortality, it should influence the need for sustainable fisheries management. A number of permits are required when landing CITES listed species caught in high-seas waters or traded across international borders, to show where they’ve come from and that they’re from sustainable populations.

If properly implemented, this is good news for pelagic species where landings are mostly from high-seas waters (e.g. Shortfin Mako if listed). Otherwise, without high-seas catch limits it would be challenging to prove sustainable fishing. However, for those CITES listed sharks caught within a nation’s waters (Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ) there are no trade restrictions on domestic landings or internal trade – so we still need effective catch limits to ensure sustainable management of these domestic fisheries.

Related Links:

► Press Release: Conservationists Welcome Shark & Ray Listings at CITES CoP (pdf) - 4 October 2016

► See for more on the legal framework and listings.