We at SeaDoc have spent some time studying Washington State's proposed voter Initiative, Measure No. 1401. This Initiative is designed to increase Washington State's capacity to prosecute people for the intrastate trafficking of endangered species parts. There is already a federal mechanism for doing this, but this Initiative is proposed to strengthen our State's ability to address this issue.
SeaDoc took the time to look at this proposed voter Initiative (signatures are currently being collected to put it on the fall ballot) because multiple species of marine turtles, sharks and rays are included and we thought the SeaDoc family might have questions about the science backing the Initiative.
Like the elephant and rhinoceros, marine turtles, sharks and rays are species that are also being illegally harvested. Their illegal harvest and trafficking are playing a large role in the decimation of these populations. SeaDoc is not an advocacy group, nor do we lobby or take positions on policies, but we want you to know that from a scientific perspective, this Initiative works to address a real threat to marine turtles, sharks and rays. Species included are those that are currently listed in Appendix I or II of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) or are listed as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable on the IUCN Red list of threatened species. While probably variable in degree of importance depending on the species, the illegal capture of these animals and sale of their parts for jewelry, food (like shark fin soup), or perceived medicinal purposes is a real threat to the long-term viability of their populations.
One local example of an affected species is the Basking shark. These magnificent plankton-eating sharks were once common in the Salish Sea, but were tragically extirpated by a targeted fishery. Recovery has been slow. On the international market, by-catch has been a problem for Basking sharks, but shark finning also has hindered recovery, especially when large "trophy fins" can command as much as $57,000 US (Clark, S., 2004, TRAFFIC, East Asia).
For more information on this Initiative, please see the following websites:
Banner photo: Leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). Courtesy of Alastair Rae via Flickr CC.