Oceana warns against near lack of shark fisheries management all around the world

The organization calls on the EU to manage its fleets’ shark fisheries with quotas, recovery plans, minimum landing sizes and a “fins attached” landing policy.

Press Release Date: July 22, 2010

Location: Madrid


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

Sharks are less managed than other fish species although they have fewer offspring and play a critical role in ensuring healthy oceans.

In a new report by Oceana, The Race for Threatened Sharks, the international marine conservation organization demonstrates how sharks are extremely vulnerable species that have been fished by European Union vessels at home and around the world without management for decades. Globally, 21% of shark populations are threatened with extinction, according to the IUCN Red List, and targeted and by-catch fisheries are the main threat to their survival.

Changes in shark fishery management in the European Union have been slow, with strong proposals often rejected or weakened. Oceana is urging the responsible fisheries management bodies and authorities to pick up the pace in establishing new regulations. Specifically, the marine conservation organization demands that all shark fisheries be regulated with “fins attached[1]” policies, catch quotas, minimum landing sizes, recovery plans or technical controls for fishing gear.

“Sharks are a lot more vulnerable to fisheries pressure than many people believe”, notes Rebecca Greenberg, marine scientist with Oceana and who will present the findings of the report in a conference today in Palma Aquarium (Majorca, Spain). “If we want to ensure the future of our sharks, our healthy oceans, our fisheries and our fishermen’s welfare, we have to grant sharks the same rights as other commercialized fish —this means to manage them today.”

Regulations for EU shark fisheries only began to surface in the last few years, after the long-awaited publication of the European Union Plan of Action for Sharks. These regulations are few, but important, including the closure of EU fisheries for endangered porbeagle and spurdog sharks. Spain has also taken steps to regulate its own shark fishing fleet, by prohibiting catches of vulnerable thresher and hammerhead sharks. However, these laws have yet to be imposed on the rest of the EU.

In the past, sharks were considered unwanted catches, but with today’s skyrocketing market for shark fins and other shark products such as liver oil, they are often considered a targeted catch. However, sharks in general are characterized for their slow growth, late maturity, and few offspring. This means that it is sometimes difficult for their populations to recover at the same rate they are exploited.

Shark fisheries are carried out in EU waters as well as in those of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans and in third countries, but nearly everywhere shark catches are unregulated or poorly managed. In 2008 the EU caught over 103,000 tonnes of sharks, according to the FAO. “When these valuable sharks are desired by all and caught without limit, we can eventually find ourselves in a race to catch the very last shark,” warns Greenberg.

Indeed, shark populations in certain areas have already been reduced to such levels that their ecological function is lost. For example, oceanic white tip sharks in the Gulf of Mexico have declined 99% since the 1950s[2] and hammerhead sharks have decreased over 99% in parts of the Mediterranean Sea[3].

Oceana highlights the upcoming review of the EU’s shark finning regulation and November’s annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) as key moments for the EU to surge ahead in safeguarding the future of sharks.

Report: The Race for Threatened Sharks

[1] The requirement to land all sharks at port with their fins attached to the body, ensuring the end of the cruel and wasteful practice of shark finning, has not occurred.

[2] Baum, Julia K. and Ransom A. Myers. 2004. Shifting baselines and the decline of pelagic sharks in the Gulf of Mexico. Ecology Letters 7: 135-145.

[3] Lenfest Ocean Program. Estudios de Investigación. Disminuye la población de tiburones en el Mediterráneo. April 2008.