The Shark Alliance is repeating its call for a strong Plan of Action to improve the status of European sharks and rays in response to new IUCN findings that 42% of shark and ray populations in the Mediterranean Sea are threatened with extinction. A report released today by the IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG) and the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation reveals that the region has the highest percentage of such species assessed as Threatened in the world, due primarily to overfishing through targeted and incidental fisheries.
European Union (EU) resource managers, led by the European Commission, are developing an overdue Plan of Action for the conservation and management of sharks. The European Commission is also expected to propose the first EU limits for porbeagle shark, identified by IUCN as “Critically Endangered” off Europe, by the end of November for consideration by EU Fisheries Ministers in December.
“From devil rays to angel sharks, Mediterranean populations of these vulnerable species are in serious trouble,” said Claudine Gibson, Programme Officer for the IUCN Shark Specialist Group and co-author of the report. “Our analyses reveal the Mediterranean Sea as one of the world’s most dangerous places on Earth for sharks and rays,” she continued.
The report details the findings of an expert workshop at which all 71 Mediterranean species of sharks, rays, and chimaeras (cartilaginous fishes) were categorized using IUCN Red List Criteria. Participants deemed 42% (30 species) of these species Threatened, of which 18% are Critically Endangered, 11% Endangered and 13% Vulnerable. Another 18% (13 species) were assessed as Near Threatened while a lack of information led to 26% (18 species) being classified as Data Deficient. Only 14% (10 species) are considered to be of Least Concern.
The Maltese skate, angular roughshark and three species of angel sharks, taken principally as “bycatch” in bottom trawl fisheries, are classified as Critically Endangered. The shortfin mako and porbeagle, taken primarily in longline fisheries and prized for their meat and fins, are also considered Critically Endangered. The giant devil ray and sandbar shark have been categorized as Endangered. The blue shark, which often falls victim to “finning” (the practice of cutting off a shark’s valuable fins and discarding the body at sea), qualifies as Vulnerable to extinction in the Mediterranean.
There are no catch limits for fished species of Mediterranean sharks and rays. Shark finning is prohibited, but enforcement methods are lenient. Eight species of sharks and rays have been listed on the four international conventions relevant to Mediterranean wildlife conservation, but only three species have received any protection as a result: white and basking sharks are protected in Croatian and European Community waters while Malta and Croatia protect the giant devil ray.
“Never before have the EU’s Mediterranean countries had more reason or opportunity to safeguard the region’s beleaguered sharks and rays,” said Sonja Fordham, Deputy Chair of the SSG and Policy Director for the Shark Alliance. “Fisheries and Environment Ministers should heed the dire warnings of this report and act to conserve sharks and rays through immediate protections for porbeagle and a comprehensive Community Plan of Action for all sharks and rays. Such action is necessary to change the current course toward extinction of these remarkable ocean animals,” she continued.
This week, in Turkey, fisheries managers at the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which guides Mediterranean rules for species taken in tuna fisheries, are considering establishing international measures for sharks. ICCAT scientists have identified the porbeagle shark as a species of concern and recommended reducing fishing for shortfin mako sharks.