While outcomes from past ICCAT meetings have served more to support the commercial fishing industry than the support of ocean species conservation, recognized conservation groups, like Oceana, continue to bring information to the attention of the ICCAT regarding the rapidly declining numbers of apex ocean predators. This year, Oceana is focusing on sharks and the need for the ICCAT to seriously consider addressing the number of sharks being taken - whether legally or otherwise - and the potential for further abuse through under-reporting.
Oceana has released a new report that estimates that as many as 1.3 million sharks were taken in the Atlantic in 2008. Averaging the weight of the various 21 species listed in the report as being caught within ICCAT-monitored waters, that number equates to 65,000 tons of shark. To put that into perspective, the ICCAT currently limits tuna harvests to under 14,000 tons of tuna - and that is a figure that many scientists believe will doom the Atlantic bluefin tuna to extinction. Just what can we expect with 65,000 tons of shark disappearing each year?
On top of that, Oceana believes 1.3 million sharks could be a gross underestimation due to under-reporting. According to Oceana, based on scientific estimates from Hong Kong shark fin trade data, the true number could be three times higher - although, you can expect that figure to be dismissed by fishing industry advocates as speculative and unreliable.
“Sharks are virtually unmanaged at the international level,” said Oceana's Elizabeth Griffin. "ICCAT has a responsibility to protect sharks. It is time to protect our ocean's top predators."
While ICCAT does have in place minor shark fin restrictions and a prohibition on bigeye thresher sharks, there are other crucial Atlantic shark species that are afforded no fishery management or protection at all. This includes several species that are currently listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Of particular concern are porbeagle, oceanic whitetip, scalloped hammerhead, and shortfin mako sharks.
According to an Oceana press release, the group's representatives will be calling on the ICCAT to implement the following initiatives:
- Prohibit the capture of endangered and vulnerable species, including hammerhead, oceanic whitetip, common thresher and porbeagle sharks;
- Establish science-based, precautionary catch limits for other commonly caught species in ICCAT fisheries, especially for at-risk shortfin mako sharks; and
- Improve the ICCAT shark finning ban by requiring sharks to be landed whole, with their fins still naturally attached
As they push the agenda forward, we, as individuals, can support them and make responsible pro-conservation choices regarding shark, tuna, and billfish products. After all, the fishing industry is, in large part, simply responding to market demand.
Read the Oceana press release.