updated 9/24/2004 11:54:26 AM ET 2004-09-24T15:54:26

The United States will join with Australia and Madagascar in arguing that great white sharks need to be protected through new global trade restrictions.

The Bush administration supports protecting the sharks, which are listed as endangered in many parts of the world, said Assistant Interior Secretary Craig Manson.

It also is proposing to ease export restrictions on American bald eagles because their populations have dramatically improved in the lower 48 states, Manson said.

The sharks, which can grow to about two dozen feet in length, are slow to breed. Hunters have targeted them in the past, and fishermen may accidentally catch them in nets.

“People have a natural terror of ’Jaws,’ but great white sharks and many other plants and animals are the species that are truly threatened,” Manson said.

Nations meet in October
The bid to protect the sharks is among 50 proposals submitted to the United Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, based in Geneva. In October, the 166 nations that are part of CITES plan to meet in Bangkok, Thailand, for a biennial review of their worldwide list of endangered species.

The list is meant to offer protections to more than 5,000 species of animals and more than 28,000 species of plants.

Separately, the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, said Thursday the United States had spent more than $50 million on CITES-related protections from 1995 to 2003 — but data on such spending before that was unavailable.

Since 1975, when it first took effect, CITES has evolved from protecting some species “on the basis of very little field-collected data” to today putting “more emphasis on obtaining biological evidence of decline when identifying new species for protection,” the GAO said in a report requested by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., chairman of the House Resources Committee.

Shark fin soup demand
Manson said trade restrictions could help great white sharks “by helping regulate sustainable wildlife trade while working to curb poaching and shut down black markets.”

Trade in sharks is fueled by demand for meat, especially in Asia where shark fin soup is beloved. Tens of millions of sharks are killed each year. The great white shark is one of several hundred shark species.

Other proposals call for protecting southeast Asia’s Irrawaddy dolphin, the Mediterranean date mussel and the humphead wrasse, which is a Pacific reef fish.

Two years ago, CITES added the whale shark and the basking shark to its list.

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