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Atlantic sharks in deep trouble

By Louise Murray - 24 Nov 2010 12:0:1 GMT
Atlantic sharks in deep trouble

Critically endangered populations of oceanic white tip and hammerhead sharks have plummeted by 70% and 99% in the North Atlantic respectively according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

An unsustainable harvest of at least 1.3 million sharks were fished there in 2008, the last year for which data is available. Attention has been drawn to plight of these large sharks targetted for their valuable fins during the meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) in Paris.

More than a dozen other threatened sharks are caught as bycatch in the 48-member ICCAT managed fisheries.

75% of the 21 shark species found in the Atlantic Ocean are threatened with extinction. Long lived but slow to mature and reproduce they are particularly vulnerable to overfishing.

A meeting of CITES in Doha, Qatar in March failed to introduce protection for any shark species. "Once again CITES has failed to listen to the scientists. The decision not to list all of these sharks is a conservation catastrophe for these species," said Glenn Sant, Global Marine Programme Co-ordinator for TRAFFIC, referring to the decision not to protect the oceanic white tip, all three species of hammerhead sharks, porbeagles and the spiny dogfish.

The decimation of shark numbers is inextricably linked to the high value shark fin trade destined for shark fin soup.

"There are effectively virtually no international limits on high seas shark fisheries, and shark finning regulations are riddled with loopholes," says Ali Hood Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust.

"We believe that sharks caught for the fin trade should be landed with at least part of the fin still attached to the animal's body. This allows a clear identification of the shark species and simplifies monitoring of catches."

The Shark Trust have been instrumental in ensuring that this protection enters UK law and hopes to see this extended to all landed shark catches worldwide. Costa Rica was one of the first countries to ban the removal of shark fins at sea fins at sea, leading the way in 2007.

Without tighter controls on fisheries, Oceanic white tips face extinction in the Atlantic Ocean, with highly stressed populations of hammerhead sharks close behind. Either event would have unknown ramifications for the wider ocean ecosystem.

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Topics: Shark Finning