Threats to Migratory Sharks Highlighted

Threats to Migratory Sharks Highlighted
European sharks are targeted today primarily for meat, fins and oil, and taken incidentally as bycatch in most European fisheries © Greenpeace

The Shark Alliance highlights the conclusion by the Scientific Council of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) that 35 species of migratory sharks and rays considered Threatened by the IUCN (World Conservation Union), also meet the criteria for listing under the Convention on Migratory Species. CMS listings encourage countries to work together on conservation agreements for species which migrate across their boundaries and could be especially beneficial for wide-ranging sharks given the current lack of shark fisheries management.

“We are pleased that scientific experts have put the spotlight on the plight of migratory sharks and the potential for CMS to help improve the chances for recovery,” said Sonja Fordham, Policy Director for the Shark Alliance and Deputy Chair of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group. “We urge CMS Parties to submit and adopt at next year's Conference of Parties proposals to conserve these vulnerable yet under-protected migratory species.”

Species identified for CMS attention include the large, oceanic porbeagle shark and the smaller, coastal spiny dogfish, both sought for their meat. Proposals by the European Union to list these species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) will be decided in June. Other sharks on the CMS Scientific Council's list include the shortfin mako, a favourite among commercial and recreational fishermen, and the hammerhead, whose fins are highly prized for the Asian delicacy, shark fin soup.

According to Dr. Zeb Hogan, the CMS Conference Of Parties Appointed Councillor for Fish, who chairs the working group on fish and will deliver his report to the Council, “This is an initial step on the way towards listing these species on the CMS Appendices. It will be up to the CMS Parties to make the final decision.”

Sarah Fowler, Co-Chair of the Shark Specialist Group of IUCN's Species Survival Commission, added,” It was alarming to discover during our review for CMS that almost half of all migratory sharks and rays are threatened according to IUCN criteria, compared with fewer than 20% of non-migratory species.”

Sharks are especially vulnerable to overfishing and slow to recover from depletion because they generally grow slowly, mature late and produce few young.

One third of European shark, skate and ray populations assessed, now qualify for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (as Vulnerable Endangered or Critically Endangered), with another 20 per cent considered at risk of becoming so in the near future.

"Despite the highly migratory nature of many shark species and the mounting evidence of their vulnerability to overfishing, there are no international catch limits for sharks," said Sonja Fordham. "Attention to sharks at the 2008 CMS meeting holds great promise, but action by individual nations, international fisheries bodies and CITES to limit trade and fishing of these imperilled species is urgently needed in the meantime,” she added.

For more information about Shark Alliance, visit their website at