By Peter Lesser ( | First Posted: Mar 11, 2013 09:12 PM EDT

Sharks, the ocean's most feared predators, are now feared for other reasons. Due to heavy overfishing in the past 30 years, many coastal shark species' populations have depleted by 95 percent, causing tremendous alarm among scientists and animal activists alike. In attempt to shift the trend, conservationists voted on March 11 to regulate the international trade of five different species of sharks to help prevent further overfishing.

Oceanic whitetip sharks, porbeagle sharks, scalloped hammerheads, great hammerheads and smooth hammerheads will all receive new protections under Monday's votes at the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in Bangkok. All five species are threatened by overfishing and targeted for their valuable fins.

If the proposal sticks, the five shark species, as well as two species of manta rays, will be listed under Appendix II of the CITIES treaty, which includes species that may become extinct if traded unsustainably.

Some may think the ocean would be a better place with less, terrifying man-eaters patrolling the waters, but as top predators sharks are absolutely vital to maintaining balance in the ocean's ecosystem.

Unfortunately, their fins are valuable assets, thus making them prime targets for fishermen. Shark fin soup is a prized delicacy in East Asia, where shark's fin can sell up to $135 per kilogram, enticing fishermen to sell it illegally.

As a result, it's hard for scientists to put a finger on the severity of the situation. Since there are no current regulations (unless the recent proposals are upheld) and illegal catches go unreported, it's almost impossible to monitor the sharks rate of extinction, yet it's estimated that 100 million sharks are killed each year.

"For these species, a lot of the trade is largely unregulated and it's led to massive population declines, particularly for hammerheads and oceanic whitetips," said shark biologist David Shiffman in an interview with LiveScience.

Further regulation may provide scientists with a better understanding of the dangers that various shark species face. Sharks have been around for over 400 million years, and now that their numbers are depleting at such exponential rates, something must be done. The new proposal to regulate fishing on the named species is a step in the right direction, but it's only a step.

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