Sharks help maintain balance in marine ecosystems. When their populations decline, unpredictable consequences in the ocean environment may result, including the possible collapse of commercially important fisheries.
Elasmobranchii (sharks and rays)
Varies by species. There are more than 1,000 species of sharks and rays, over 50% of which are threatened or near threatened with extinction.
Where do sharks live?
Sharks live in all ocean basins, ranging from coastal to deep water habitats.
Overfishing, driven by international demand for fins and meat, has driven many shark population declines worldwide. Over 100 million sharks are killed in commercial fisheries each year—about twice what scientists estimate to be sustainable. Because of this, more than 50% of sharks and rays are now threatened or near threatened with extinction, and pelagic sharks (species of sharks found on the high seas) have declined by 71% in the past 50 years alone.
Compounding this issue, sharks have a very slow life history. Slow growing and late to mature, some shark species only produce a handful of pups every two to three years and their populations are very sensitive to overfishing. When overfished in such high numbers, the damage inflicted can result in populations taking decades to recover.
How does climate change impact sharks?
As sharks continue to be studied, we are learning more and more about the critical role they may play in ocean ecosystems. A recent study found that seagrass ecosystems without sharks were less resilient to climate change, and it is likely sharks are playing similar roles worldwide. Healthy shark populations also support communities whose livelihoods depend on local shark species for food and ecotourism purposes.
IFAW is working to reduce the global mortality of sharks and rays to sustainable levels.
For over a decade, we have partnered with member governments of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to achieve limitations on the trade in threatened and highly threatened shark species—ensuring any continued trade is legally and sustainably sourced (this is known as an Appendix II listing of the Convention).
Listed species are provided robust regulation, monitoring and enforcement of sustainable trade limits by governments all over the world. CITES management prioritizes the identification and seizures of illegal shipments of shark products, as well as driving better fisheries management at the national level—leading to effective reductions in shark mortality worldwide.
IFAW also provides support to action on these regulations, such as identification and enforcement trainings, as well as the development of technical tools as governments seek to enact CITES listings for sharks and rays at home.
By focusing on sustainable trade limits for shark species, we hope these listings will provide a global framework to prevent the shark trade from driving species towards extinction, and individual countries can then make decisions based on the health of populations in their waters.
How can you help?
With support from our partners, IFAW advocates for sustainable trade limits for shark species threatened by the international demand for shark fins, and provides resources and support to governments seeking to better manage sharks and rays in their region.