Sharks in trouble after nations fail to create sustainable management programs
Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com
November 6, 2008
Sharks are disappearing from the ocean at startling rates: currently one-in-five of these famous marine predators are threatened with extinction. According to a report from the Australian Government and TRAFFIC—an organization that monitors wildlife trade both legal and illegal—the collapse of shark populations is being caused largely by rising demand for shark fin in Asia. The report shows that legal fishing for sharks has become nearly as detrimental as illegal, since few fisheries have management strategies concerned with sustainability.
Overfishing is particularly troublesome for shark species, since these super predators mature slowly and produce few young, giving them little chance to recover from large scale harvesting.
Blue shark photo by Greg Skomal (sanctuaries.noaa.gov).
"We simply don't know enough about the scale of global shark fishing practices to assess the true impact that legitimate fishing is having," Glen Sant, author of the report, said. "Many so-called ‘managed shark fisheries' are not constrained in any way to ensure they are sustainable, which opens up the threat of over-fishing.” A 2006 study in Ecology Letters estimated that 26 to 73 million sharks were being caught for their fins annually.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is currently meeting in Rome to discuss the issue of how combined mismanagement and illegal fishing have caused dangerous drops in the shark populations. The organization recommended in 2000 that countries implement shark management programs. Only one in five countries did so.
"The global lack of action towards conserving shark populations is inexcusable given the knowledge we have about the impacts of fishing on these animals," Sant explained.
"While shark numbers plummet, the major shark catching countries have shown little uptake of recommendations on monitoring or management, so we welcome the efforts that FAO is making this week in Rome."
TRAFFIC hopes that from the FAO meeting countries with management systems already in place will gain the tools needed to improve them, while those lacking managed fisheries will be compelled to begin monitoring their shark populations with future sustainability in mind.
The five major importers of shark fins are China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Taiwan. Indonesia is also the world's largest harvester of sharks. Nearly 100,000 tons of shark are caught each year in Indonesia, a fishery that lacks any management policy.
To harvest the shark's fin, it is often cut off while the animal is still alive. Illegal fishermen after de-fining the shark will sometimes toss the animal back into the water to die: their meat is worth far less than the fin. The fin is shredded before added to the soup and is believed by many to have curative powers, including against cancer, though that belief has been discredited by researchers. A single bowl of shark-fin soup can cost up to $120. In 2005 the shark fin trade was worth about 125 million dollars.