The annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) which ended last night, brought agreement to examine the status of Atlantic sharks, but no measures to protect these vulnerable species from overfishing. The lack of action by ICCAT leaves conservationists looking to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to protect the most endangered shark species caught by ICCAT fisheries.
A US proposal based on scientific advice, prompted ICCAT to order a population assessment update for two shark species - shortfin mako and blue sharks -- and to make management recommendations in time for the 2008 ICCAT meeting. Other highly migratory shark species taken in ICCAT fisheries include threshers, oceanic whitetip, silky and porbeagle sharks -- all of which grow slowly, mature late and produce few young.
“We are pleased that ICCAT has established a focus on Atlantic sharks and set a timetable for management recommendations, but these exceptionally vulnerable animals need precautionary protections in the meantime,” said Sonja Fordham, Policy Director for the Shark Alliance. “Information about shark fishing is too often lacking and low priority. As a result, there is uncertainty about shark population status; it is clear, however, that sharks grow slowly and are more susceptible to overexploitation than most fish. Shark fisheries need stringent controls to prevent overfishing and long-standing collapse.”
ICCAT member states were again called upon to submit relevant shark data to facilitate sound assessments, but previous calls have been ineffective. For instance, Spain, Europe’s known leader in shark catch and trade, failed to report any shark catch to ICCAT for 2005.
ICCAT banned shark finning (dumping the carcass at sea after removal of the fins) in 2004 and highlighted the scientific advice to reduce fishing on North Atlantic shortfin mako sharks in 2005, but has yet to impose restrictions on the number of sharks taken in Atlantic fisheries. In discussions about sharks this year, representatives from the European Community, and Canada referenced CITES growing attention to sharks and suggested ICCAT should manage shark fishing, but neither Party offered any proposals to that end. The EU votes next month on a proposal from Germany to list porbeagle sharks under CITES.
“Regional fisheries bodies, such as ICCAT, should work with CITES to ensure shark catch and trade is sustainable, but so far only CITES has provided international protections for oceanic sharks,” added Fordham. “In the face of continued inaction by ICCAT and individual fishing nations, CITES offers the best hope for saving the endangered porbeagle shark. We urge EU Member States to embrace Germany’s proposals as a first step toward a sound shark conservation strategy for European waters and the high seas. Such action is urgently needed to keep more shark species from going the way of the porbeagle.”
The IUCN Shark Specialist Group considers several oceanic sharks, including shortfin mako and blue sharks, threatened by Red List Standards. Porbeagle sharks, valuable for their meat and fins, are particularly imperiled, classifying as Critically Endangered in the Northwest Atlantic. Germany has proposed listing porbeagles under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). EU Member States will vote on this proposal, and a similar one for spiny dogfish sharks, in mid December. Adoption is necessary for the proposals to advance to the Conference of the CITES Parties in June 2007.