Oceana: Deep-sea sharks still in deep trouble

Scientists recommend continued prohibition of fisheries for main species targeted for shark liver oil.

Press Release Date: October 10, 2014

Location: Madrid


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

Sharks in the deep waters of the Northeast Atlantic continue to face a bleak future, according to new scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). Scientists produced recommendations for three deep-sea shark species (kitefin shark, leafscale gulper shark, and Portuguese dogfish), and their advice remains unchanged from that of the last ten years: no fisheries should be permitted for these sharks. For Oceana, the international marine conservation organisation, the latest advice further emphasises the need for strong precautionary measures to protect these – and other – deep-sea shark species from overexploitation.

Heavy fishing drove these vulnerable species to depletion during a period of less than two decades, and there appears to be no evidence of any recovery, even seven years after target fisheries were closed,” stated Dr. Allison Perry, marine wildlife scientist with Oceana in Europe. “The EU needs to take a very hard and close look at whether it’s doing enough to safeguard deep-sea sharks.”

Deep-sea sharks are particularly at risk of overexploitation because they are very slow-growing, long-lived animals, with slow rates of reproduction, which limits their potential to recover from depletion. For example, the leafscale gulper shark matures at 35 years of age, and can live for up to 70 years. Despite these risks, some species of deep-sea sharks have been heavily fished, primarily for their oil-rich livers, which are used for manufacturing cosmetics, health supplements, and vaccines.

Since 2007, targeted fishing of some deep-sea shark species has been prohibited in EU waters, because of concerns about population depletion. From 2012, all fisheries (including by-catch) have been prohibited for a list of deep-sea sharks that currently includes roughly 20 species. However, this list does not include other deep-water shark species that occur in the Northeast Atlantic, share the same biological characteristics as listed species, and are known or likely to be captured in EU fisheries. For example, EU fisheries statistics for the Northeast Atlantic show annual catches of angular roughshark, a globally threatened species that has been traded for its meat and liver.                                                 

Learn more: Deep-sea fisheries