Eyeing protection for new species on Shark Awareness Day

Blue sharks remain the most heavily traded of all species in the Hong Kong fin trade.You wouldn’t expect to find a shark in the Rhine River but the German city of Bonn, situated along the Rhine, is proving to be a positive place for sharks this Shark Awareness Day. I’ve been here with International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) colleagues, representing IFAW at the Scientific Council meeting of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). The Council has been considering a range of proposals to create new protective measures for a number of shark species, including the world’s biggest shark, the whale shark, as well as blue sharks, the angelshark and the wonderfully shaped and named guitarfish.

All of the proposed measures have been recommended for adoption by the Council at the forthcoming meeting of the CMS in October. This is because science shows these animals are in desperate need of our help. About 100 million sharks are caught every year and studies indicate that some shark species may have declined by as much as 80 percent in the past decade.

With knowledge and interest growing, thanks in part to Shark Awareness Day, more people understand that the situation facing many shark species is dire.

An endangered whale shark glides through the ocean. Whale shark populations have declined by 50 percent in the past 75 years. PHOTO: © Vanessa Mignon

Whale sharks have declined by more than 50 percent. Although rarely hunted directly these days, they are still caught in fishing nets. While the intentionally setting of purse-seine nets around whale sharks has been banned in the Indian Ocean and parts of the Pacific Ocean, this is not yet the case in the Atlantic. A number of countries in whose waters whale sharks regularly aggregate do not have any legal protection in place for these sharks, which for many countries are an important part of local tourism industries. If this proposal passes at the CMS meeting in October, these countries will be committed to fully protect whale sharks and their habitat.

There has also been attention in recent years about the shark fin trade. Blue sharks remain the most heavily traded of all species in the Hong Kong fin trade. But shark finning is not the only problem; global demand for shark meat is increasing even while the fin trade declines. There have been very few efforts to manage blue shark fisheries around the world, so we are hopeful that getting the species listed on CMS will bring more attention to the need for protection.

The critically endangered angelshark, once common during the 19th and early 20th centuries, has been reduced to fragmented, small populations in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, with their last remaining stronghold around the Canary Islands. Although protected in the waters off the UK, Monaco and Spain, the shark needs full legal protection from fishing throughout its range, and efforts to reduce anglesharks falling victim of bycatch must be increased.

Last year, members of an IFAW delegation played an important role in listing many shark species as Appendix II animals under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) conventions. The conference, which took place last September, successfully listed silky sharks, thresher sharks and devil rays as protected.

“Sharks fins and ray gills are some of the world’s most profitable fish commodities, unregulated catches are common, and there are few monitoring and reporting systems in place to track them,” Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, IFAW Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said regarding CITES protection. “A lack of reliable trade data and population statistics leads to a lack of protection measures. This decision will help change that.”

IFAW is hopeful that by adopting the measures proposed at CMS, countries and other international entities that deal with fisheries management and trade in endangered species will take further initiatives to better protect these sharks. We’ll be at the CMS meeting in October to try and ensure that happens.

--MC

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