TWO sharks species that are fast declining in Fiji's waters have received majority votes for worldwide protection.
Delegates at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) conservation meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, last night voted to extend protection for the oceanic whitetip and hammerhead sharks.
Campaigners from around the world - including two representatives from the Fisheries Ministry and Environment Ministry - have hailed the move to record and regulate all trade in the species as "historic".
Pew Environment Group global shark conservation campaigner Angelo Villagomez, who has been studying the declining shark population in Fiji's waters and campaigning for a shark management plan in our Exclusive Economic Zone, said the Pacific islands had taken steps to protect the oceanic whitetip and 92 countries voted in favour of them.
"This is a great moment for the Pacific," Mr Vilagomez said from Bangkok last night.
He said they had pushed to protect oceanic whitetips at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) "but we cannot do it alone".
"We need the support of international institutions like CITES."
After a tense debate, which was shown live, delegates voted by 92 votes to 42 to upgrade the oceanic whitetip to CITES' appendix II, which lists species which are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but which may become so unless trade is closely controlled.
It is the first time that delegates have voted to protect a commercially valuable species of shark.
Mr Vilagomez said the fight was not over.
"We haven't won yet, though. There is still an opportunity to overturn this vote when the meeting returns to plenary later this week," he said.
Fourty-two countries voted against the proposal on the oceanic whitetip.
Shark Stanley Campaign co-director Leah Meth said CITES had come of age.
"The voices of the world have been heard. Delegates at CITES listened to us and voted to protect oceanic whitetip sharks," he said from Bangkok.
Political lobby is rife at the meeting with China and Japan strongly opposing moves to upgrade protection of sharks.
Both countries are concerned about CITES having power over commercial fishing.
The head of the European Union's delegation, Feargal O'Coigligh, told the meeting the EU would give funding to poorer countries to help them change their fishing practices.
Delegates also voted for the protection of the portbeagle shark and two species of rays.