Shark campaigners: ICCAT action needed

22 Nov 2010
Porbeagle meat is among the most prized of all sharks and is a highly traded product. (Photo: NOAA)

Porbeagle meat is among the most prized of all sharks and is a highly traded product. (Photo: NOAA)

Shark conservation unions the Shark Alliance and the European Elasmobranch Association (EEA) are calling for measures to curb overfishing of vulnerable Atlantic sharks at this week’s meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) in Paris.

More than a dozen species of sharks are commonly targeted or taken as bycatch in ICCAT managed fisheries. Depletion of these key predators risks the health of entire ocean ecosystems, they said.

The call for action targets loopholes in the current ICCAT ban on shark finning – the practice of slicing off shark fins and discarding the body at sea – as well as the need for more stringent catch restrictions for species judged at particular risk.

ICCAT currently allows fins adding up to 5% of a shark’s weight to be landed. Most species’ fins weigh much less than 5% of their whole carcass. Higher ratios mean that many more sharks can be finned without fear of prosecution. Finning also undermines effective data-collection on species.

The Shark Alliance and the EEA are urging ICCAT parties to prohibit the removal of shark fins at sea, so that enforcement is simplified and identification of sharks is more straightforward.

“The most effective way to prevent shark finning is to require that sharks are landed with their fins naturally attached,” said Nicole Aussedat, Shark Alliance co-ordinator in France, from the ICCAT meeting. “We cannot wait any longer to enforce robust protection for these important predators, which are key to the balance of life in the sea.”

Intense global demand for the large, high-value fins of the oceanic whitetip (Carcharhinus longimanus) has led to significant population declines, particularly in the Northwest and Central Atlantic.

An assessment by the SCRS in 2008 ranked the oceanic whitetip in the top five species with the highest vulnerability and is classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as "critically endangered" in the Northwest and Central Atlantic Ocean and "vulnerable" globally.

The fins of porbeagles are frequently found in the global shark fin market, its meat is among the most prized of all sharks and is a highly traded product.

Unsustainable fishing has led to the collapse of the North Atlantic porbeagle populations, classified by the IUCN as "critically endangered" in the northeast Atlantic and "endangered" in the northwest Atlantic.

The Shark Alliance and EEA are urging ICCAT parties to adopt a prohibition to fish and retain onboard vessels oceanic whitetip and porbeagle sharks in line with recent SCRS recommendations.

“Sharks are exceptionally vulnerable animals. Earlier this year, CITES failed to agree trade restrictions for shark species, including the oceanic whitetip and porbeagle sharks, so it’s up to ICCAT to step up to the mark and put in place the protection they so desperately need’, said Heike Zidowitz, EEA president.

ICCAT has also identified shortfin mako sharks (Isurus oxyrinchus) as a priority concern for over seven years. Female shortfin makos reach maturity at about 18 years of age and only produce on average 4-18 pups per litter during their gestation period, which can last up to 18 months.

Initiated and co-ordinated by the Pew Environment Group, the Shark Alliance is a coalition of more than 100 conservation, scientific and recreational organisations dedicated to restoring and conserving shark populations by improving shark conservation policies.

EEA is a non-profit umbrella organisation to co-ordinate the activities of national European organisations dedicated to the study, management or conservation of chondrichthyan fishe (sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras).

It is an association of organisations, currently representing 12 European countries (UK, Bosnia and Herzegovina, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Spain, and Switzerland). EEA is a founding member of the Shark Alliance.

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