A recent update by
the IUCN Red List has shown that more shark species than ever are in danger. Three hundred sixteen species of sharks, rays, skates and chimeras are now threatened with extinction.
The Lost Shark, Carcharhinus obsoletus,is already extinct, and others
that are expected to follow soon include four species each of hammerhead and angel sharks, from the world’s most threatened shark families.
In spite of all the press that shark conservation has received in the past two decades, no effective protection of sharks has been established, no sharks have been saved, and their decline into extinction is ever more apparent.
High profits versus declining animals
The rising global demand for shark fins, contrasted with the steady depletion of the animals supplying that demand, creates a situation that endangers not only the continuation of
shark populations, but also the health of the oceans. Sharks, as top and middle predators, are of extremely high ecological importance.
The shark fin trade is driven by enormous profits that rival the trade in illegal drugs, and in consumer countries, there is no interest in sustainability and neither the will nor the resources to manage it. The result is that
sharks are now the most valuable catches and are targeted by factory fishing fleets around the world.
regulations have resulted in the shark fin industry loading shark meat onto local markets where it is sold under other names. Yet shark meat is not considered good food due to its unpleasant taste, and the high level of accumulated mercury and other toxins.
But, with ninety percent of traditional fish stocks severely over-fished, sharks are being used to fill the gaps.
The domination of industry
IUCN reported in 2014that one quarter of shark species were at that time facing extinction due to rampant over-fishing. Their global study found that the main factors contributing to extinction risk were the size of the
animal, and the depth at which it lives. Shallow water species are more accessible to fisheries, and therefore at greater risk.
However, in spite of the dire picture painted by this and all other scientific studies of shark status done, no effective protection for sharks has been put into place. Lack of data is always cited by fisheries organizations as
the reason not to do anything, and the continuing effort to get more data delays action under current rules. However, it is clear from an examination of the records that it is simply not possible to get accurate data on the numbers of sharks that remain. The
failure of fisheries management which was pinpointed in the 2014 study is increasingly apparent.
catch phrase of shark fisheries advocates is that sharks can be fished “sustainably.” However, while it sounds like a nice idea, the basic facts of subtraction amply illustrate that it is impossible in practice. The steady decline towards extinction
of the species accessible to fisheries reveal that the shark fin trade is far from being sustainable.
is why some researchers are calling for an immediate Appendix I CITES listing for all sharks, manta rays, devil rays and rhino rays.
With the western powers joining
in the frenzy to profit from the shark fin trade, a European Citizens initiative to stop the trade in Europe is ongoing and a million votes are needed. So if you are European, you can help by voting HERE.
The ocean must be allowed to recover
A global study by the World Bank, Sunken Billions(2009, 2017), found that over-fishing has resulted in a loss of about US$83 billion yearly.
It is fishing effort which must be reduced to get the best economic result for solving the global fisheries crisis. Over-exploited fish stocks must be given time to recover, and steps must also be taken to permit the devastated oceanic ecosystems to restore
themselves. The World Bank suggests using the subsidies that have encouraged over-fishing in the past to ease the social transition, as millions of fishers must switch to other occupations.
At the same time, one third of the ocean must be designated as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)
The solution is not to turn to fishing out the top predators because the shark fin trade has made them valuable, as fisheries around the world are doing. If no means are found to end the domination
of industry in this respect, the unravelling of the oceanic ecosystems will continue, eventually to the detriment of humanity as well as sharks. No animals can withstand prolonged, unremitting, targeted, commercial hunting--not whales, not turtles, not fish,
and certainly not sharks.
© Ila France Porcher, 2021, SEI's International
Board member and Shark Behaviour Specialist Advisor.
Photo © Preserved
specimen of new Carcharhinus obsolerus species and artist's impression below (PLOS ONE/Lindsay Marshall).