The Wildlife Conservation Society and more than 35 government agency and NGO partners issued the call at the International Union for Conservation of Nature's World Conservation Congress in Jeju, a WCS release reported Tuesday.
They say they want sharks and rays listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the 175-member treaty that regulates international trade in animal and plant species.
"Sharks and rays have traveled the Earth for more than 400 million years," Cristian Samper, WCS president, said in his keynote address at the Jeju congress.
"Yet, in only recent decades, many of these species have become threatened from overfishing and, in some instances, have disappeared entirely from major portions of their range."
Currently, only a handful of shark and ray species, including the whale shark, basking shark, great white shark, and sawfishes, are given protection listing, but many more species are under threat, conservationists said.
"The potential loss of one of only two groups of the world's living fishes is a crisis the world community must take decisive action to address," Samper said.
Conservation groups are calling for a range of measures to improve fisheries management and conserve sharks and rays, and especially to combat the taking of sharks for their fins.
"We estimate that many millions of sharks are killed annually through both legal and illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing for the trade in fins, the prime ingredient in shark fin soup," Rachel Graham, director of WCS's Gulf and Caribbean Sharks and Rays Program, said.
"The high price for fins has caused the global shark fishery to expand far beyond what is sustainable. The need for international regulation and enforcement has never been greater."