One Quarter of Northeast Atlantic Sharks and Rays Threatened with Extinction

First IUCN Red List assessment of all 116 species in the region

The release of the first ever IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ assessment of Northeast Atlantic sharks and closely related rays and chimaeras reveals that 26% are Threatened with extinction, and another 20% are in the Near Threatened category. The total number of threatened species may well be underestimated as there was insufficient information to assess over a quarter (27%) of the species.

The report, released by the IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG), is the result of a regional workshop to evaluate the status of the Northeast Atlantic’s “chondrichthyan” species using the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria™. The findings reveal that the percentage of shark, ray and chimaera species classified as Threatened (Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable) in the Northeast Atlantic is significantly higher than for the same statistic globally (26% v. 18%). Specifically, 7% of species in the Northeast Atlantic are classified as Critically Endangered, 7% as Endangered, and 12% as Vulnerable, primarily due to overfishing.

“From angel sharks to devil rays, Northeast Atlantic populations of these vulnerable species are in serious trouble, more so than in many other parts of the world,” said Claudine Gibson, former Programme Officer for the IUCN SSG and lead author of the report.

“Most sharks and rays are exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing because of their tendency to grow slowly, mature late, and produce few young... "Those at greatest risk of extinction in the Northeast Atlantic include heavily fished, large sharks and rays, like porbeagle and common skate, as well as commercially valuable deepwater sharks and spiny dogfish.”

The European Union (EU) has provided species-specific fishing limits for only four of the region’s 116 chondrichthyans. Basking and great white sharks are legally protected in the EU; catch limits for spiny dogfish and porbeagle sharks exist, but are regularly set in excess of scientific advice. There are broad EU limits on multiple species of skates and rays as well as deepwater sharks, but these are also not yet in line with scientists’ recommendations. The UK and Sweden are the only Northeast Atlantic countries to provide full national protection for certain shark and ray species. Beyond some agreements between the EU and Norway, there are no international catch limits for Northeast Atlantic chondrichthyans.

The coming weeks bring multiple opportunities to improve the status of Northeast Atlantic sharks and rays through meetings of international fisheries and wildlife bodies, the annual process for setting EU quotas, and a long-awaited European Community Plan of Action for sharks and related species. The report includes specific recommendations for conservation action based on scientific advice.

“Never before have European countries had more reason or opportunity to safeguard the beleaguered shark and ray species of the Northeast Atlantic,” said Sonja Fordham, Deputy Chair of the SSG and Policy Director for the Shark Alliance. “Country officials should heed the dire warnings of this report and act to protect threatened sharks and rays at national, regional and international levels. Such action is immediately possible and absolutely necessary to change the current course toward extinction of these remarkable ocean animals.”

Experts from government agencies, universities and private institutions in England, Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Croatia, Russia, Sweden, Canada and the USA participated in the regional workshop that formed the basis for the report. This and several other regional workshops have contributed to the development of the SSG’s ‘Global Shark Red List Assessment’, supported by Conservation International (CI).  “The completion of this global assessment of sharks and their relatives will provide an important baseline for monitoring the status of these keystone species in our oceans” said Roger McManus, Vice-President for CI’s Marine Programs.

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Mona Samari, +44 (0) 7515 828 939

Notes to editors

The data for this report have been submitted for inclusion in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ and are subject to review prior to publication in the Red List.

The report is titled The Conservation Status of Northeast Atlantic Chondrichthyans:

Report of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group Northeast Atlantic Regional Red List Workshop.  It was compiled and edited by Claudine Gibson, Sarah Valenti, Sarah Fowler and Sonja Fordham.

Most sharks play key roles as top predators in marine food webs. By feeding on the weak and wounded of prey species, sharks help maintain ocean ecosystem function.

Overexploitation, from targeted fisheries as well as incidental take (or “bycatch”) is the primary cause of declines in Northeast Atlantic sharks, rays and chimaeras.

Last month, at the World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, the IUCN adopted Resolutions on shark finning, conservation of oceanic and migratory sharks, and the EU Plan of Action for Sharks.

About the IUCN and the Shark Alliance:

Created in 1948, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) brings together 84 States, 108 government agencies, 800 plus NGOs, and some 10,000 scientists and experts from 147 countries in a unique worldwide partnership.  The IUCN is the world's largest environmental knowledge network and has helped more than 75 countries to prepare and implement national conservation and biodiversity strategies. The IUCN is a multicultural, multilingual organization with 1,000 staff located in 62 countries. Its headquarters are in Gland, Switzerland.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ is the most comprehensive conservation inventory of the world’s plant and animal species and a widely used tool for focusing attention on species of conservation concern. The assessments evaluate the conservation status of individual species, identify threatening processes affecting them and, if necessary, propose recovery objectives for their populations.  IUCN Specialist Groups assess species and population health and abundance and classify them under categories ranging from Extinct to Least Concern. Species deemed Vulnerable, Endangered, and/or Critically Endangered around the world qualify as Threatened under the Red List criteria.

The IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG) aims to promote the long-term conservation of the world’s chondrichthyan (cartilaginous) fishes, effective management of their fisheries and habitats and, where necessary, the recovery of their populations. The SSG is in the process of assessing the status of the roughly 1,000 species of cartilaginous fishes. 

The IUCN Shark Specialist Group’s Red List Programme has been supported generously by Conservation International. The SSG’s Northeast Atlantic workshop was kindly hosted by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. The workshop and preparation of this report was supported by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of the Environment Northern Ireland’s Environment Agency, the National Marine Aquarium, the New England Aquarium’s Marine Conservation Action Fund, the Blue Planet Aquarium, The Deep and the Lenfest Ocean Program. The Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation has supported Sarah Fowler’s work with the SSG.

The Shark Alliance is coalition of 59 conservation, scientific and recreational organisations dedicated to improving European policies with respect to sharks and rays.  By reaching out to the public, governments, interest groups and the media, the Alliance strives to secure science-based national, EU and international conservation measures for these vulnerable species.

Conservation International (CI) applies innovations in science, economics, policy and community participation to protect the Earth’s richest regions of plant and animal diversity and demonstrate that human societies can live harmoniously with nature. Founded in 1987, CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents to help people find economic alternatives without harming their natural environments.

The Global Marine Species Assessment (GMSA) began in late 2005 and is based in the Department of Biological Sciences at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. This project is a joint initiative between IUCN and CI and will be the first global review of the conservation status of every marine vertebrate species, and of selected invertebrates and plants. The project involves a range of partners in compiling and analyzing all existing data on approximately 20,000 marine species, and will determine the risk of extinction according to the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria.