Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 22, 2018

Contact:  Abel Valdivia, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7103,
Jane Davenport, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-3274,

Giant Manta Ray Listed as Threatened Under U.S. Endangered Species Act

Decision Recognizes International Overfishing But Fails to Adopt Key Protections

WASHINGTON— The National Marine Fisheries Service protected the giant manta ray as threatened today under the Endangered Species Act. The decision recognized threats from overfishing, climate change and lack of international protections, but failed to offer remedies to giant manta rays’ steep population declines.

Today’s listing responds to a petition from Defenders of Wildlife, with support from the Center for Biological Diversity, seeking federal protections of giant and reef manta rays. Both species are often killed for their gills, which are used in Asian medicine; the federal government denied protection of reef mantas last year.

“Listing giant manta rays under the Endangered Species Act is a good step, but now the U.S. and our international partners have to take concrete actions to protect them,” said Dr. Abel Valdivia, a marine ecologist at the Center. “We’ve got to move quickly to prevent these gentle giants from being wiped out by overfishing and the unregulated trade of their gills.”

Manta ray populations are threatened by intensive fishing by foreign commercial and artisanal fisheries across several Indo-Pacific and eastern Pacific countries. Regulations and conservation measures have failed in foreign nations to protect these gentle giants, which are targeted by the mostly unregulated international trade of their gills. Several manta ray populations have declined by up to 95 percent. 

Endangered Species Act protection will provide increased legal safeguards for giant manta rays to help ensure that the United States, which does not have a significant presence in the international gill plate trade, is not a marketplace or shipment point for the trade. Unfortunately the Fisheries Service determined that protective regulations on take and trade are not necessary because, it claims, the species is relatively well protected under U.S. jurisdiction.

“We welcome this decision recognizing that the giant manta ray’s populations are plummeting due to overharvesting and fisheries bycatch,” said Jane Davenport, a senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “We are, however, very disappointed that the federal government chose not to extend any real legal protections to the species under the ESA. We will be scrutinizing the record of the decision to determine whether the agency fulfilled all of its legal obligations under the statute.”  

In many portion of the species’ range, current U.S. fishery, state, and territorial regulations prohibit the retention of manta rays by persons under U.S. jurisdiction. But, current regulations do not cover every U.S. state, territory or persons, and trade could potentially happen. Endangered Species Act prohibitions on take and trade would ensure the U.S. does not participate in this trade.

“We are glad the giant manta ray will finally receive threatened species protection it desperately needs. However, omitting the reef manta ray leaves the species vulnerable,” said Alejandra Goyenechea, senior international counsel at Defenders. “Several international conventions have identified both species as in need of immediate conservation measures. We should do the same here in U.S. waters.”

In 2013 manta rays were included on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which requires export permits of manta rays and manta ray products to ensure the products were legally acquired and are not detrimental to the survival of the species. The species is also listed in the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species and Wild Animals (CMS).

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come.

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