Oceana calls for regulation of shark catches in international waters

Around 52% of pelagic shark species, such as hammerheads and threshers, caught in high-seas fisheries are threatened with extinction

Press Release Date: May 1, 2010

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: mmadina@oceana.org | tel.: Marta Madina

Oceana calls for regulation of high-seas shark fisheries, as these vulnerable species lack any management measures in international waters despite being highly exploited. Delegates from the international marine conservation organization are attending the Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (RFMO) meeting taking place this week in San Sebastian, Spain, whose aim is to discuss the failures in managing tuna stocks around the world, but sharks are on the agenda as well. To date, there is not a single agreed international catch limit or prohibition for shark catches in any of the RFMOs, and shark finning bans are filled with loopholes that inhibit control.


Pelagic, or open-ocean, sharks are caught as targeted and accidental catch in the same waters where tunas are fished, but they have been left behind by RFMO management. Oceana is asking for countries around the world to change their history shark non-management.


“This meeting represents a unique opportunity to address shark management on a global scale”, remarked Ricardo Aguilar, Science Director for Oceana in Europe. “We need precautionary and ecosystem-based management measures to be established for these species, which have been left by the wayside for far too long. We hope the RFMO nations agree on measures and actions to improve the situation of shark stocks, which have been heavily impacted by fisheries exploitation in recent decades”,  Aguilar continued.


Sharks are vulnerable species that are hunted in targeted commercial fisheries, especially for their valuable shark fins, or caught as by-catch in tuna fisheries. Many of these sharks, like hammerheads, threshers, makos and porbeagles, are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. In fact, a report[1] published last week by this institution noted that 52% of pelagic shark species caught in high-seas fisheries are threatened.


In 2007, 141,000 tonnes of highly migratory sharks from the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans where reported caught to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). The main nations catching these sharks are Indonesia, Spain, Portugal, Iran, Venezuela and Bolivia. However, misreporting and unreported fishing is a widespread problem in shark fisheries, and some estimates reveal that real shark catches might be 3-4 times higher than the reported amount[1].


Taking a positive and proactive stance and setting an example for other countries around the world, Spain, Europe’s top shark fishing nation, has agreed to implement national legislation to manage its shark fisheries. Upcoming ministerial decrees will prohibit catches of thresher and hammerhead sharks in all Spanish fisheries, and establish catch and effort limits for blue and shortfin mako sharks, the two species targeted by their surface longline fleet. Establishing similar legislation in all RFMOs would be a significant step forward, as catches of these species, as reported to the FAO, represent approximately 70% of all highly migratory shark catches around the world. 


Oceana is asking the nations for change in shark management and wants:


  • Implementation of catch limits for targeted shark fisheries.
  • Establishment of measures to prevent shark by-catch.
  • Prohibition of catches of endangered and critically endangered shark species. 
  • Protection of shark feeding and breeding habitats.
  • Establishment of data reporting requirements and effective enforcement mechanisms.
  • Prohibition on the removal of shark fins at sea.


Position paper on sharks: Oceana wants RFMO parties in San Sebastian to commit to concrete actions

High-res photos and video footage available

Watch Oceana TV’s program On The Alert: Sharks 


[1] Clarke, S. et al. 2006. Global Estimates of Shark Catches using Trade Records from Commercial Markets, Ecology Letters. 9(10): 1115-1126.


[1] Camhi, M.D., Valenti, S.V., Fordham, S.V., Fowler, S.L. and Gibson, C. 2009. The Conservation Status of Pelagic Sharks and Rays: Report of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group Pelagic Shark Red List Workshop. IUCN Species Survival Commission Shark Specialist Group. Newbury, UK. x + 78p.