Pew Will Push Shark Conservation at World Fisheries Meeting

Pew Will Push Shark Conservation at World Fisheries Meeting

The Pew Environment Group today called for stronger shark conservation measures worldwide as a new report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies 35 out of 64 known pelagic shark and related ray species around the world as threatened or near threatened with extinction.

The IUCN report was released just days before a joint meeting of the world's fishery managers in San Sebastian, Spain. The regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), which mostly focus on managing tuna fisheries, agreed at their first joint meeting two years ago that the problem of declining shark populations urgently needed to be addressed. To date, however, none have set limits on the number of sharks that can be caught in their jurisdictions.

"Up to 70 million sharks are killed around the world every year for the shark fin market, virtually all of which are caught in areas where there is no management regime in place to ensure their sustainability," said Joshua Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group. "This is a staggering number. Unless this situation is soon reversed, large numbers of shark species will disappear altogether."

The shark fin trade is a driving force in the overfishing of sharks. Shark fins are highly valued for use in the Asian delicacy shark fin soup. Often, shark meat is worth much less and takes up more cargo space. As a result, the practice of shark finning has evolved: the shark is brought on board a fishing vessel, the fins are sliced off, and the body is dumped back into the ocean.

According to the IUCN report, overfishing is the primary reason why a number of sharks in U.S. waters are threatened, including two species of thresher sharks, basking sharks, great whites, shortfin and longfin makos, porbeagles, oceanic whitetip sharks, dusky sharks, sandbar sharks, and three species of hammerheads.

At the San Sebastian meeting of the world's fisheries managers, Pew is joining other conservation groups in calling for precautionary, science-based management plans for sharks, starting with the immediate adoption of binding measures to:

  • Prohibit retention of particularly vulnerable and/or depleted shark species taken in tuna fisheries, including hammerheads, threshers, porbeagles and oceanic whitetips; 
  • Establish catch limits that significantly reduce fishing pressure on globally vulnerable shortfin mako sharks; 
  • Cap catches of near-threatened blue and silky sharks until safe catch levels are determined; 
  • Close off areas of high shark concentration to commercial fishing; and 
  • Prohibit removal of shark fins at sea.

To improve enforcement of the U.S. finning ban and enhance understanding of dwindling shark populations, the Pew Environment Group supports the Shark Conservation Act of 2009 (S. 850/H.R. 81), introduced by Senator John Kerry (D-MA). The legislation, which passed the House unanimously in March, would require that all sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached, eliminate loopholes and strengthen enforcement in the current U.S. shark-finning law and promote the conservation of sharks internationally.