People walk past shark fins drying on a road in Hong Kong. (AFP/Dale de la Rey/Getty Images)

We all know about the scary "Jaws" theme, Shark Week and stories about encounters where sharks take huge bites off surfboards -- enough to cause people to worry about the fearsome predator. But sharks could have their own theme, and when it plays, they should be on the look out for humans.

Sharks kill about five people a year, far fewer than deer, ants and dogs. But humans kill nearly one million tons of sharks every year, and that's just five different types -- oceanic whitetip, scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead, smooth hammerhead, and porbeagle. Noting this imbalance, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife Fauna and Flora, known as CITES, announced more aggressive steps to protect them Friday.


Starting Sunday, most of the 180 nations that are members of CITES will require fishermen to get permits to hunt these sharks for their fins and meat to bring them ashore. The same goes for manta rays, which the body also moved to protect. CITES called the regulations the most comprehensive in its 40-year history to protect sharks and rays.

If fishermen dock with specimens of the "five shark species and all manta ray species, including their meat, gills and fins," they will need to have "permits and certificates confirming that they have been harvested sustainably and legally," CITES said in a statement.

Scalloped hammerhead sharks in particular are zealously hunted for their fins and meat. The most recent stock assessment in 2009, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, found that its population across the world fell from 155,000 in 1981 to about 26,000 in 2005, an alarming decline that landed it on the endangered species list, the first shark species ever placed there.

Manta rays are a delicacy in some nations, so fishermen are known to spear them, hook them and cut away their gills before tossing the carcasses back into the ocean. That's problematic because the rays reproduce very slowly, birthing fewer than one cub per year. By and large, they no longer swim in great schools, but in scattered populations across the world.

“Regulating international trade in these shark and manta ray species is critical to their survival," CITES Secretary-General John Scanlon, said. By protecting the fish, governments are also protecting "the biodiversity of our oceans."