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CITES - Species Regulation
How the Trade in Species is Regulated


The 57th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee concluded on 18 July 2008 in Geneva, Switzerland. At that meeting, CITES-listed species, including just about all popular aquarium corals, were reevaluated and new permits were handed down. For the marine aquarist this means two things. First, for the next couple of weeks, coral will be hard to come by, and second, in August we should see loads of coral imported to the United States. In the interim, we want to take a moment to bring our readers up to speed on what exactly CITES is and how it affects the marine aquarium industry.

What is CITES?

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, commonly referred to as CITES, is an international agreement with the goal of ensuring that the trade in wild animals does not threaten a species’ survival. In excess of 30,000 species of animals and plants (both living and non-living specimens) are currently regulated by CITES. Approximately 28,000 of the protected species are plants while only about 5,000 species are animals, such as coral.
CITES has its origins in a 1963 meeting of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), but it wasn’t until a decade later that the language of the Convention was finally approved by representatives from 80 countries. Two years later, in the summer of 1975, CITES became a binding convention between the countries which voluntarily signed it. Today CITES is legally binding for 173 signatory countries, although each country is responsible for writing domestic legislation to provide for its implementation within national borders.

Legally Binding

When described as legally-binding, it means that all import, export, re-export, and introduction of species covered by CITES must be authorized through a licensing system specific to each participating country. Each country is therefore responsible for designating one or more national management authorities to administer that licensing system. In addition, each participating country must designate one or more “scientific authorities” to advise the country “on the effects of trade on the status of the species.”

In the case of the United States, the management authority is ultimately The Secretary of the Interior with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Management Authority being the agency which oversees the administration of the national licensing system. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Scientific Authority is the designated scientific authority and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Special Agent in Charge of Investigations from the Services Office of Law Enforcement is responsible for all enforcement. In the case of inspecting and clearing plant shipments, the responsibility falls to the CITES Program Coordinator under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Plant Protection and Quarantine.

Level of Protection Status

A species listed by CITES receives a designation based on which of the three appendices includes that species. There are three appendices, commonly referred to as Appendix I, Appendix II and Appendix III. A species is listed in a particular appendices based on the degree of protection deemed appropriate. Appendix I species are species threatened with extinction, and the trade in these species is severely limited. Appendix II “includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.” Appendix III species are species protected in at least one country that has requested other CITES countries’ assistance in controlling the trade in that species.

To determine whether a species should be listed in Appendix I or Appendix II, the Conference of the Parties (including representatives from each participating country) meets regularly to consider proposals. These proposals, and the decision making process, is guided by Resolution Conf. 9.24 (Rev. CoP14), which is a set of biological and trade criteria to help determine whether a species should be included in Appendices I or II. Proposals are discussed at each meeting and then submitted to a vote. Adding or removing an animal from Appendix III is a completely separate process which will not be discussed here.  

CITES in Practice

In practice, a CITES Appendix II listed species may only be imported into or exported from a CITES country if the appropriate documents are presented at the port of entry or exit. In the case of Appendix II listed species being imported to the United States, an export permit (there are also re-export certificates which are issued in some situations, but they will not be dealt with here) must be issued by the designate management authority in the country from which the specimen(s) is being exported. This export permit can only be issued when the specimen was collected legally and the collection of the specimen is deemed to not be detrimental to the species’ survival.

While CITES also regulates the trade of non-living species and species by-products, in the case of a living species, the specimen (s) must be “prepared and shipped to minimize any risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment.”

To search the database of Appendix II species and review all other species protected by CITES, click here.

Special Rules for Marine Life

Special rules apply to marine life listed by CITES. In the case of marine livestock, CITES also requires that a certificate be issued by management authority or, in the case of the United States, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Special rules also apply to transhipped animals, pre-Convention specimens, animals bred in captivity, plants that were artificially propagated, specimens destined for scientific research, and animals or plants forming part of a travelling collection or exhibition (e.g. circus).

To read the agenda of the 57th meeting of the Standing Committee that took place from the 14th to the 18th of July 2008 in Geneva, Switzerland, click here.

Published 22 July 2008. Blue Zoo Aquatics
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