International Fishery Managers Leave Sharks and Skates at Risk

Countries express concern but fail to act for threatened species of the Northwest Atlantic

International Fishery Managers Leave Sharks and Skates at Risk

The Shark Alliance is expressing dismay at the failure of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) to adopt concrete measures for the conservation of the region’s threatened thorny skates and porbeagle sharks at their annual meeting this week.

Instead of acting on scientific advice, NAFO Parties approved another year of excessive skate quotas and passed the job of addressing unsustainable porbeagle shark fishing in the NAFO Area to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). The European Union was open to acting for porbeagle, but opposed reducing the skate quota. Canada stood against both lowering the skate quota and acting on porbeagles. The U.S. has long supported science-based limits on skates and porbeagles at NAFO.

“Once again, international fishery managers have failed to heed scientific warnings for some of the North Atlantic’s most vulnerable fish,” said Sonja Fordham, Shark Alliance Policy Director. “We are particularly disappointed by the EU’s refusal to reduce the catch limit for depleted thorny skates, especially in light of recent progress towards establishing more EU responsible shark and ray fishing policies and a Community Plan of Action for these vulnerable species.”

Northwest Atlantic thorny skates are fished primarily by vessels from Spain and Portugal. NAFO established its thorny skate quota – still the only international ray quota in the world – in 2005 at 13,500 tonnes (t), (2500t higher than advised by scientists) and awarded the bulk of it to the EU. In 2008, NAFO’s Scientific Council recommended limiting catch to 6,000t in line with recent catches, based on signs of rebuilding at this level of fishing. The U.S. was the only NAFO Party to express support for the skate quota reduction. The EU and Canada spoke in favor of maintaining the status quo.

A June report from Canadian scientists to the NAFO Scientific Council expressed concern over a new fishery of unclear origin for porbeagles in the NAFO Area. Scientists predict that these catches, when added to those from the Canadian fishery, will collapse the population. Many NAFO Parties expressed concern for porbeagles, but decided that the matter would be better addressed by ICCAT and agreed to send a letter to the ICCAT Chair requesting conservation action. The U.S. unsuccessfully proposed porbeagle protections at NAFO in 2007. ICCAT Parties, except Canada, agreed in 2007 to reduce fishing of porbeagles, but stopped short of setting concrete restrictions on catches. ICCAT meets in November.

“Porbeagle sharks are at great risk and cannot withstand another year of international fisheries managers passing the buck,” added Fordham. “We urge the EU to act on their expressed concern for porbeagles by proposing and securing an Atlantic-wide, mandatory release rule of this imperiled species at this year’s annual meeting of ICCAT in November.”