This paper provides an overview of the market for selected non-traditional commercially-exploited aquatic species sharing an international conservation profile. Most of those species are important internationally traded fish commodities. Caviar, shark fins, queen conch meat and toothfish fillets are appreciated by connoisseurs as gourmet delicacies. Some shark fins and caviar in particular may be considered among the most expensive seafood commodities in the world.
Sturgeons, queen conch, sharks and Patagonian toothfish provide income and employment opportunities to fisheries in developing countries, in transition economies, and also among local and traditional communities in developed countries, such as shark fishers in Japan. Because of their high market value these species represent appealing targets for those fisheries. In particular, sturgeons, queen conch and Patagonian toothfish are traditionally valuable and demanded species also affected by poaching and smuggling. Historically sharks have been considered as cheap and abundant but the demand for shark fins has significantly increased the commercial interest in these animals, hence their conservation profile.
Sturgeons, queen conch and two shark species are listed in the appendices to the CITES Convention, while the Patagonian toothfish is managed by CCAMLR. A number of other binding agreements and soft law are aimed at the conservation of these species. Some of the internationally binding agreements listed in this paper entail trade restrictions for the species under their protection system. These trade measures can be considered compatible with the WTO system only when they are:
- non-discriminatory, particularly with respect to the application against non-parties,
- transparent, and
- directly linked to a policy of conserving an exhaustible natural resource.
Thus far, no case has been brought to the Dispute Settlement Body of the WTO against any of the trade measures aimed at the conservation of natural resources. However, some countries pointed out the presence of a grey area in the relation between WTO and international environmental law, particularly when international environmental law provides for import restrictions on WTO members which are not parties to the environmental agreement in question.
Therefore, commercially-exploited aquatic species with an international conservation profile entail a series of issues, such as the relationship between species conservation and income generation for developing countries, and between species conservation and trade liberalization.