Remarks by John Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES made during the 29th session of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Committee on Fisheries (COFI)

Updated on 12 January 2021

Rome, Italy, 1 February 2011

(Oral presentation was limited to four minutes and the main points set out below were highlighted)

Honourable Ministers
Delegates from COFI members

"CITES is complementary to, rather than an alternative for, regional fisheries bodies."

It is a great pleasure to be with you today at this 29th session of COFI – the first time that a Secretary-General of CITES has participated in one of your meetings, for which I thank you.

I am particularly delighted to be here to personally reinforce the importance of the relationship between CITES and FAO so early in my tenure. This partnership is essential to the effective implementation of the Convention in relation to commercially-exploited aquatic species, and for maximum coordination of conservation measures taken by each organization. In particular, I would like to highlight some of the good work we are doing together, as well as few areas where we could do more. 

One of the recent positive aspects of our collaboration has been the CITES Secretariat’s consultation with the FAO Secretariat in preparing a discussion document on cooperation with FAO for the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES. In that document, it was noted that “FAO is a historical partner for CITES, dating back to the adoption of the Convention in 1973”. Marine species have a special place within the Convention and, even though FAO is not expressly named in the Convention, reference is made therein to intergovernmental bodies having a function in relation to marine species. The importance of the relationship between CITES and FAO, as well as other fishery bodies such as CCAMLR, has been further reinforced through a number of Decisions and Resolutions adopted by the CITES Parties over many years. 

Today we work under the guidance of an MoU with FAO that was concluded in 2006, an MoU that will soon be expanded to cover forestry and wildlife issues as we further enhance the relationship between the Convention and FAO at the direction of our Parties. 

FAO contributes towards CITES in many ways, including through the FAO Ad Hoc Expert Advisory Panel, which continues to provide high-quality technical advice to CITES Parties on proposals to include commercially-exploited aquatic species in the CITES Appendices. This work is much appreciated by both the Parties and the Secretariat – though it should be noted that Parties are not bound to follow the Panel’s recommendations – and the value of the Panel’s work lies in its alignment with the listing criteria adopted by CITES Parties. Most recently, in July of last year, FAO and CITES jointly convened an expert meeting on sharks, during which it was agreed that harvest-related measures and trade-related measures could and should be used in tandem, where appropriate, to ensure the successful management of fish or any other natural resources.

We are also increasingly engaging with Regional Fishery Bodies, the groups of States or organizations that work together towards the conservation and management of fish stocks. These too are important relationships for CITES and we expect to see them further develop over coming years. In 2002, the Conference of the Parties to CITES adopted a Resolution on cooperation with CCAMLR regarding trade in toothfish, and we have also seen our interrelationship with ICCAT start to take shape over the past 12 months.

We were delighted to have the Chair of ICCAT, Mr Fábio Hazin, attend CITES CoP15, and I was pleased to return the favour in November of last year when I participated in the 17th Special Meeting of ICCAT. At that meeting, ICCAT members instructed their Secretariat to explore possible mechanisms for enhanced cooperation with CITES, especially in the communication and exchange of scientific information.  In addition to his ICCAT chairmanship, Mr Hazin has been elected Chair of the CITES Standing Committee's Working Group on Introduction from the Sea. The FAO Secretariat is a member of the Working Group (as is the United Nations Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea), and it is in this capacity that it is now reviewing a draft document which Mr Hazin and his Vice-Chair prepared during a working meeting held in our offices at the end of 2010. Based on comments received from FAO and other Working Group members, the draft document will be revised and further discussed via email as well as in a meeting of the Working Group scheduled to take place in Bergen, Norway, during May 2011.

There are also areas where we could do more work, including various implementation issues related to introduction from the sea, which will be addressed in the future, and certain differences of opinion regarding the criteria for the inclusion of species in the CITES Appendices. There is also scope for States to explore whether more fishery agencies should become management authorities under CITES, something that is both possible and already occurs in many countries – recognizing that Parties are free to have more than one management authority. 

Further, during the course of my travels, some fishery officials have expressed concerns about what they describe as ‘life-long listings’, which they say prevents best complementary use being made of CITES.  Although a process is available to Parties by which they can delete species from the CITES Appendices, it is not often used. We see an opportunity for exploring whether Parties could consider time-bound listings for some commercially-exploited aquatic species that fall under other management regimes. This is work in progress, which has yet to be addressed by the CITES Parties, but the discussion is being opened up. 

CITES is a legally-binding global treaty with a remit to prevent the overexploitation of wild species through international trade. Through its almost universal membership, it enables the law enforcement community in one part of the world to respond to practices that violate both the Convention and applicable national law in another.

Mr Chairman, turning to the 12th Session of the Sub-Committee on Fish Trade held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last April [document COFI/2011/3], we strongly endorse the main outcomes concerning activities related to CITES, which are set out in paragraphs 17 to 23 of the decisions and recommendations of the Sub-Committee. We warmly thank the FAO Ad Hoc Expert Advisory Panel for its contribution to the decision-making processes of the Convention.  We are also most grateful to your Secretariat, with which we have enjoyed cordial and mutually beneficial cooperation. Concerning paragraph 21 about the CITES intersessional process to clarify the interpretation of the Appendix-II listing criteria, as applied to commercially-exploited aquatic species, we welcome the full engagement of FAO in helping us to implement related decisions adopted at CoP15.

What I hope this very brief intervention demonstrates is that we have entered a new era of cooperation.  The conservation and sustainable use of marine species, including those of commercial value, are a matter of concern for many different actors, and we each have a different, complementary role to play, as is appropriate. 

The issue of making use of CITES to help manage marine species, and in particular species that are of commercial value, has excited strong debate and a range of views amongst CITES Parties and others.  How the Parties wish to make use of CITES is a matter for them and, as a Secretariat, we will – together with FAO – continue to provide the best available scientific, technical and legal advice to assist them in this task. In this context, we note that, with a few exceptions, members of this Committee are also Parties to CITES. 

CITES Parties have listed nearly 100 fish and other marine aquatic species, as well as 2,000 coral species.  The Convention has brought benefits for their conservation and sustainable use, such as for the queen conch in the Caribbean and northern South America, the trade in which represents more than 60 million American dollars every year.

This shows that CITES should not be perceived as a convention for banning trade. Of the 34,000 plus species covered by the Convention, only 3 % are listed in its Appendix I, which prohibits international commercial trade in wild-taken specimens. Our records of international trade show that, over the years, well over 10 million transactions have occurred under CITES – compelling evidence that it is not a Convention to prohibit trade.

Distinguished delegates, my experience since becoming Secretary-General nine months ago has highlighted the areas of common interest that exist between FAO and CITES, as well as regional fishery management organizations, with respect to the conservation and sustainable use of marine species, fully recognizing our complementary roles as well as areas where further work is needed.

I place the highest importance on further enhancing these collaborative relationships and look forward to CITES and FAO, including its Committee on Fisheries, working increasingly closely to this end.  Thank you again for providing the opportunity to intervene today, thank you to our colleagues in the FAO Secretariat, and I wish you a successful meeting.