Local supporters of shark conservation in Panama joined the MarViva Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts today to launch an effort to establish permanent protections for sharks in that nation's waters.
Panama is home to more than 40 species of sharks, the majority of which are threatened or near threatened with extinction, according to the Red List of Threatened Species issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN.
Overfishing of sharks in Panama's waters for the past 30 years has resulted in a noticeable decline in adult shark populations. For example, the majority of hammerhead sharks caught in Panama are newborns or juveniles that have not had the opportunity to reproduce. The scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini), one of the most recognizable of shark species, is also one of the most endangered globally and subject to targeted and illegal fishing throughout the world.
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Recognizing this, parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, extended protections to scalloped hammerheads, two other species of hammerheads, oceanic whitetip sharks, and porbeagle sharks by listing them in Appendix II of the treaty earlier this year. When these new listings take effect on Sept. 14, 2014, the international trade of these species will require CITES permits that confirm the animals have been fished sustainably and legally.
Worldwide, up to 100 million sharks are killed annually in commercial fisheries. Sharks are exceptionally vulnerable to overexploitation. In general, they grow slowly, mature late, and produce few young over long lifetimes. Those traits leave them slow to recover from depletion.
Sharks play an important role in maintaining the balance of the ocean environment. As top predators, they regulate the variety and abundance of species below them in the food chain, including commercially important fish species. Sharks also help to maintain healthy marine habitats, such as coral reefs. Declines in their populations therefore could harm the broader marine ecosystem.
Pew is working in Panama with MarViva, a nongovernmental organization promoting the conservation and sustainable use of coastal and marine ecosystems in the region.