International Fisheries Meeting Moves to Protect Some Sharks

Oceanic white tip shark and diver (photo: Paul Spielvogel, SDM)

November 27, 2010
Half a dozen species of endangered sharks hunted on the high seas to satisfy a burgeoning Asian market for sharkfin soup are now protected in the Atlantic, a fisheries group decided on Saturday.

Scalloped, smooth and great hammerheads, along with oceanic white tip, cannot be targeted or kept if caught accidentally, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) announced. [The Washington Post summarized that this was, in part due to the fact that, "Populations of oceanic white tip shark have declined 99 percent in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean, while hammerheads' numbers have dropped 99 percent in the Mediterranean. ]
A proposal submitted by the European Union to extend the same level of protection to the porbeagle shark, critically endangered in the northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean, was shot down.
"Canada was adamant that they were not going to let its porbeagle fishery go," said Elizabeth Wilson, a marine scientists at Washington based advocacy group Oceana. The decisions on sharks follow 10 days of closed door haggling at the 48 member ICCAT, which has yet to announce quotas and other measures on bluefin tuna. [CBS News has since reported that "The commission agreed to cut the bluefin fishing quota in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean from 13,500 to 12,900 metric tons annually." This represents approximately a mere 4% decrease. Most conservationists and many scientists consider this insufficient to prevent continued, unsustainable declines in the species' populations.]

At least 1.3 million sharks were harvested from the Atlantic in 2008 by industrial scale fisheries unhampered by catch or size limits, according to a recent report. The actual figure, it said, is likely several fold higher due to under-reporting. To date, the only other shark species subject to a fishing ban in the Atlantic is the big eye thresher, a measure passed last year.

"These decisions increase the chances that these species will continue to swim in the Atlantic," said Matt Rand, a shark expert with the Pew Environment Group. "But there's a lot more work to be done. Fifty per cent of open water sharks in the world are threatened with extinction," he said, cited the classification of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) [Red List of Threatened and Endangered Species].

A push by the United States to establish quotas for another shark, the shortfin mako, fell short. "Half the countries at the meeting were opposed," said Wilson.While willing to ban the fishing of certain species that are already in sharp decline, these nations do not want to set a precedent of establishing catch limits for sharks with relatively healthy populations, she explained.

There are no multinational quotas on shark fishing anywhere in the world.

ICCAT did, however, call for data collection on the shortfin mako. It also voted a measure requiring commercial fishermen to remove hooks and netting from accidentally caught sea turtles before returning them to the sea, and to keep records.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? 1. Be an informed consumer about your seafood choices; know about the fishery itself and any associated by-catch and make sustainable purchases; choosing not to eat seafood is a viable and good option. 2. Buy products that are animal-product-free, as those are sure to be devoid of any shark. 3. Be an advocate for the oceans; share your concerns and knowledge with your friends, family, and community; JOIN THE AQUATIC ARMY! 

Compiled and analyzed by,
Samantha Whitcraft
Conservation Biologist

Sources: The Washington Post, Sydney Morning Herald, FishBase,
CBS News Tech

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