More than a million Atlantic sharks killed yearly

Marlowe Hood Yahoo News 22 Nov 10;

PARIS (AFP) – At least 1.3 million sharks, many listed as endangered, were harvested from the Atlantic in 2008 by industrial-scale fisheries unhampered by catch or size limits, according to a tally released Monday.

The actual figure may be several fold higher due to under-reporting, said the study, released by advocacy group Oceana on the sidelines of a meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).

Convening in Paris through November 27, the 48-member ICCAT is charged with ensuring that commercial fisheries are sustainable. It has the authority to set catch quotas and restrictions.

While the global spotlight has been trained on the plight of Atlantic bluefin tuna, many species of high-value sharks are in even more dire straits, say marine biologists.

"Sharks are virtually unmanaged at the international level," said Elizabeth Griffin Wilson of Oceana. "ICCAT has a responsibility to protect our oceans' top predators."

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, "highly migratory" sharks must be managed by international bodies.

Of the 21 species found in the Atlantic, three-quarters are classified as threatened with extinction.

North Atlantic populations of the oceanic white tip, for example, have declined by 70 percent, and hammerheads by more than 99 percent, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Other species -- including the porbeagle, common thresher and shortfin mako -- have also been overexploited, and may be teetering on the brink of viability.

Many are fished for their fins -- prized as a delicacy in Chinese cuisine -- and then tossed, dead or dying, back into the sea once the choice morsels have been sliced off.

The practice is prohibited, but loopholes in the regulation have allowed the ban to be widely ignored.

Oceana and several conservation groups, backed by some governments, have called upon ICCAT to set catch quotas and other protective measures for these and other vulnerable sharks.

The United States has proposed requiring that all sharks be brought back to shore whole, which would boost enforcement of the finning ban and help scientists measure population levels.

Japan -- which quashed a drive earlier this year to protect four threatened shark species under the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) -- is now urging ICCAT to prohibit fishing one of them, the oceanic white tip.

The initiative "is an example showing our commitment for conservation of shark resources," the head of the Japanese delegation said in an opening statement.

Sharks have reigned at the top of the ocean food chain for hundreds of millions of years.

But the consummate predators are especially vulnerable to industrial-scale overfishing because they mature slowly and produce few offspring.

"The classic fisheries management approach of 'fishing down' a given population to its so-called maximum sustainable yield, and then assuming it can recover, does not work for sharks," said Matt Rand, a shark expert at the Washington-based Pew Environment Group.

Tens of millions of the open-water hunters are extracted from global seas every year.

Regional studies have shown that when shark populations crash the impact cascades down through the food chain, often in unpredictable and deleterious ways.

Experts demand better protection for sharks
Angela Doland, Associated Press Yahoo News 22 Nov 10;

PARIS – With their pointy teeth and fearsome reputations, sharks may not be the best poster child for species in danger, but environmentalists say the predators are in dire need of protection.

Marine experts and conservation groups hope an Atlantic conservation conference in Paris this week will bolster what they say are disastrously inadequate rules on shark capture.

"There are shark populations that have declined by 99 percent, so it's a real severe situation, and there are virtually no protections at an international level," said Elizabeth Griffin Wilson, a marine wildlife scientist at conservation group Oceana.

Oceana wants delegates to toughen the existing ban on shark-finning — the practice of slashing prized fins off the animals and tossing them overboard to die — as well as prohibiting the capture of some threatened Atlantic sharks and setting catch limits for others.

Right now, only one shark species is under international protection in the Atlantic — the bigeye thresher — and there are no catch limits on others, it said in a report released Monday.

Elaborate international fishing regulations and quotas govern other types of fish, such as tuna, the main focus of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), meeting this week through Saturday in Paris.

Sharks have historically been an afterthought in the fishing industry. ICCAT deals with highly migratory sharks because they are often an accidental catch for tuna fishermen.

Conservation groups say the rise of Asia's middle class, combined with the continent's penchant for pricey shark fin soup, a traditional delicacy, has turned sharks into a lucrative target.

"It's time the world looks at sharks and starts to set serious measures to save them, otherwise these creatures that have been around since before the time of the dinosaur will quickly go the way of the dinosaur," said Matt Rand, director for global shark conservation at the Pew Environment Group.

More than 1.3 million highly migratory sharks were caught in the Atlantic in 2008, the year with the most recent data, Oceana calculated based on figures from ICCAT. Even then, Oceana believes the figure is a "gross underestimate" because 11 out of ICCAT's 48 member countries didn't report any shark catches at all in 2008.

"If you took those sharks and lined them up, they would stretch from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles, and that's just (in) one year," said Oceana's Wilson.

Oceana said 21 of the world's 72 highly migratory shark species were reported caught in the Atlantic in 2008. It said three-fourths of those 21 species are designated as threatened with extinction in parts of the Atlantic by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Oceana, Pew Environment Group and others say the existing ban against shark-finning in the Atlantic has too many loopholes, and fishermen should be required to bring sharks back to shore without their fins severed.

Fishermen now are allowed to slice off the fins before they bring the sharks ashore as long as they don't throw the bodies overboard. That makes fraud easier to commit, since it's harder for inspectors to make sure no bodies have been thrown out to sea, environmentalists say.

While ICCAT and other regional commissions regulate fishing, trade bans are handled by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES.

Environmentalists were sorely disappointed by a CITES meeting in March, where six species of sharks failed to get protection despite studies showing their numbers had fallen by up to 85 percent because of the booming fin trade.