Sharks have been swimming the world’s oceans for more than 400 million years. While they have survived mass extinction events, sharks have not evolved to withstand overexploitation by humans. These top predators are in serious trouble due to heavy fishing pressure, shark finning and bycatch.
Of the 307 shark species assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 50 are listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered, but only the white whale and basking sharks are protected internationally under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Sharks now represent the greatest percentage of threatened marine species on the IUCN Red List of threatened species.
As apex predators, sharks play a vital role in maintaining the health of marine ecosystems, serving as an indicator of ocean health. Sharks are slow-growing, late-maturing, long-lived and give birth to few young, making them extremely vulnerable to overexploitation.
Today, sharks are considered target species in many EU fisheries. Their fins, exported to Asian markets ,are used for preparing traditional soups, and their livers, intended for the international cosmetics industry, are now among the most expensive products from the sea. In addition, many species are frequently caught as bycatch.
In the EU, shark fisheries management is either nonexistent or little effective. The majority of shark species lack fishing quotas or other control measures, such as closed areas or minimum catch sizes.
The lack of data on catches and trade complicates the assessment of the status of shark populations and the development of optimal regimes for fisheries management of sharks. Even so, there is evidence that they are being caught in an unsustainable manner and that some biologically vulnerable populations are below sustainable levels.
What Oceana Does
Changes in legislation.
Oceana works to eradicate “finning ”, cutting off fins and throwing the body overboard while the shark is still alive. This practice has increased as Asian countries demand more fins for “shark fin soup”, while also raising the price of the fins.
Oceana is focused on changing European legislation to prohibit finning and enforcing the landing of sharks with fins attached. In addition, the organisation works to create solid regulations for fishing different shark species in Europe, where Spain harbours the most important fleet.
This organisation regulates the large pelagic fishery, as well as the tuna fishery, and establishes TACs and quotas for some shark species. Oceana works to create measures tailored for the different populations, and to achieve the establishment of management plans for all shark species targeted by different fisheries.
European Shark Week
In 2008, the second annual European Shark Week took place 11-19 October. It’s a unique opportunity for people across Europe to demonstrate their support for shark conservation in a way that can really effect change.
During European Shark Week 2007, aquariums, dive clubs and other organizations helped host more than 100 events and together we collected more than 20,000 signatures.