Over 50 countries have made renewed efforts to tackle over-fishing and other threats to migratory shark species as part of a new UN-backed conservation plan.
Countries Agree New Plan for Global Shark Conservation
Government representatives from 50 countries have gathered in Bonn, Germany, for the first meeting of signatories to the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks concluded under the UN Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) participants adopted a new conservation plan, which aims to catalyze regional initiatives to reduce threats to migratory sharks. Signatory states also agreed to involve fishing industry representatives, NGOs, and scientists in implementing the conservation plan.
Under the agreement, countries agreed to exchange information among government bodies, scientific institutions, international organizations and NGOs. Improved monitoring and data collection will help assess the structure, trends and distribution of shark populations necessary to design targeted conservation measures.
The MoU on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks (2010) is the first global instrument dedicated to migratory sharks and complements a suite of existing wildlife and fisheries agreements.
Since migratory sharks cross the high seas and national waters of different states, closer collaboration between countries is needed to tackle over-fishing and other threats.
“The Convention on Migratory Species welcomes the continued cooperation among governments and partners and challenges participants to take meaningful actions to promote shark conservation within their waters and on the high seas,” said CMS Acting Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema.
Sharks are under serious threat around the globe. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified 17 percent of more than 1000 assessed species as threatened, according its ‘Red List’ criteria. Sharks are caught intentionally or as accidental “by-catch” in virtually all types of fisheries worldwide.
The new conservation plan will encourage fisheries-related research on incidental and direct shark catches with the aim to ensure that all shark catch is sustainable.
In particular, governments will work with fishing industries, regional fisheries management organizations, scientists and NGOs to avoid the capture of two of the largest sharks in the world: the basking shark and great white shark. These shark species are considered endangered migratory species and are listed in Appendix I of CMS.
Other species targeted by the conservation plan include mako, spiny dogfish, porbeagle, basking, white, and whale sharks
Countries also stressed that the accidental capture of sharks in fishing gear needs to be more closely regulated. Participants at the Bonn meeting agreed to encourage catch quotas to ensure sustainable use of targeted sharks and stricter limits on endangered shark species. No international fishing quotas have been established to date for the short and long fin mako sharks, which traverse ocean basins, are fished by multiple countries, and are covered by the CMS agreement.
The conservation plan also suggests that sharks should be landed with their fins still attached in order to prevent shark “finning” (slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea). The high value of fins has created an economic incentive for shark finning , but to date, more than 60 fishing nations, including the 27 Member States of the European Union (EU), have banned the practice.
However, in the EU and some other countries, processing sharks on board vessels is still allowed in some cases. This means that shark fins can be removed from carcasses and stored separately under a fin-to-carcass weight limit that can be difficult to properly enforce. In 2011, the European Commission proposed putting an end to these permits and requiring that sharks be landed with their fins attached. On 19 March 2012, the Council of the European Union endorsed the Commission’s approach. The proposal is currently being debated by the European Parliament.
It is estimated that 26 to 73 million sharks are killed every year to support the global shark fin market. Shark fins, used in the traditional Asian dish shark fin soup, are among the world’s most valuable fishery products. The price of shark fins reached more than US$ 700 per kilo in 2011, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Sharks are also sought for meat and liver oil and, increasingly, their cartilage skeletons are also marketed.
Most sharks are long-living species that grow slowly, mature late, and produce few young. These biological factors make sharks particularly vulnerable to overfishing and mean that populations can be slow to recover once depleted.
Representatives from other UN bodies such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as well as INTERPOL also participated at the meeting of signatories, in addition to leading NGO representatives and shark fisheries experts.
CMS is working with Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) to promote the conservation and sustainable use of sharks.
New research which could help conserve sharks has confirmed that many of the ocean predators are probably completely colour blind.
Study Reveals Sharks Are Color Blind
The joint study by The Universities of Western Australia (UWA) and Queensland looked at the visual adaptations of two species of wobbegong sharks, which are also known as carpet sharks.
Wobbegongs spend most of their time on the sea floor and hunt mostly at night using an unusual sit-and-wait ambush strategy, the journal The Royal Society’s Biology Letters reports.
The original doctoral study by Susan Theiss showed that the wobbegong visual system contains only a single class of cone photoreceptor. Cone photoreceptors are the retinal cells that are used for vision under bright light conditions, whereas rod photoreceptors are used in dim light, according to an UWA statement.
In many animals, more than one type of cone is present in the retina, some of which are sensitive to different parts of the visible spectrum of light. The nervous system can compare these signals to distinguish colours. However, if only one cone type is present, there is no possibility of colour vision.
In the latest study, researchers isolated the genes that encode the cone visual pigment proteins and found that only one cone pigment gene was present.
Research team leader assistant professor Nathan Hart from the UWA Oceans Institute and School of Animal Biology said the study is important to understand how sharks view the world.
“Sharks are highly visual animals, but the world they see lacks colour and will appear as shades of grey like we see when we watch a black and white movie. It may be possible to use this knowledge to change the way a shark reacts to certain objects.
“For example, it may be possible to design long-line fishing lures that are less attractive to sharks to reduce the incidence of shark bycatch. It may also lead to better design of equipment such as wetsuits and surfboards that reduce the risk of shark attack,” Hart said.
Hart and the Neuroecology group at UWA led by Shaun Collin, professor, are already developing shark attack mitigation wetsuits.
Measures to protect the critically endangered grey nurse shark have been announced by the NSW government. Minister for Primary Industries Katrina Hodgkinson introduced regulations that include banning baited hook fishing in key breeding areas for the species along the NSW coastline.
Australia NSW Announces Shark Protection Moves
“Our overall goal is to protect the grey nurse shark,” she told reporters at Manly Sea Life Sanctuary today.
“They are the puppies of the ocean – they’re not Jaws.They are very gentle creatures but we’re down to the last 1500 or so.”
Bait fishing presents the biggest risk for grey nurse sharks, the minister said.
Recreational fishers will still be able to use other methods such as spinning, jigging and hand gathering.The moves “strike a balanced approach” to protect the sharks while allowing fishing and scuba diving to take place, Ms Hodgkinson said.
“Because the population is so low, before protection they’re on a pathway to extinction,” said Dr Geoff Allan, executive director of Fisheries NSW.
Critical habitat scuba diving regulations are being replaced by a code of conduct as part of the protection moves, developed over the past 14 months.
Other changes include delisting the Bass Point critical habitat site in Shellharbour and protecting a site near Mermaid Reef, off Crowdy Head.
An educational campaign will promote the rules and there will be a 12-month compliance advisory period while they are phased in.
Responding to the new measures today, Greens MP Cate Faehrmann said protection zones around aggregation sites needed to be larger.
“When you are desperately trying to save a critically endangered species from extinction, half-hearted compromises are not the way to go,” she said.
Project AWARE Foundation is a growing movement of scuba divers protecting the ocean planet – one dive at a time.
Over the past two decades of underwater conservation we’ve learned that divers are true leaders in ocean protection. We’re ocean heroes numbering in the millions across the globe. We believe together our actions will make a huge impact and will help to rescue the ocean.
With new programs and more online resources than ever before, Project AWARE supports an unprecedented global movement of divers acting in their own communities to protect oceans and implement lasting change.
We’re focusing in on two major ocean issues –Sharks in Peril and Marine Debris, or trash in our ocean. Truly, there are many conservation issues converging on our ocean planet at once, but we’re concentrating on these serious problems where scuba divers are uniquely positioned to directly and positively affect real, long-term change in these two areas.
Together, we’re re-thinking what’s possible and sharing a positive vision for our ocean future. Get ready for the work ahead by joining the movement of thousands of divers to protect our ocean planet. http://www.projectaware.org/user/register
Want to know more? Check out Project AWARE’s Frequently Asked Questions. http://www.projectaware.org/resource/aware-frequently-asked-questions
As the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) World Conservation Congress opens in Jeju, Korea, Project AWARE, an IUCN member organization, and more than 35 government agencies and NGO partners issued the call to take immediate steps to save sharks and manta rays from the ever growing pressure of overexploitation. Specifically, we’re advocating the listing of sharks and rays under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Calling for Global Shark Protection at IUCN World Conservation Congress
We need to regulate international trade in sharks and rays, and CITES is one of the largest, most effective wildlife conservation agreements in existence.”
Ania Budziak, Project AWARE Associate Director, Science & Policy
“We need to regulate international trade in sharks and rays, and CITES is one of the largest, most effective wildlife conservation agreements in existence. With 175 member countries, CITES provides an international framework for monitoring and controlling trade in species at risk and penalizing violations,” commented Ania Budziak, Project AWARE Associate Director for Science & Policy who is attending the IUCN congress.
Currently, only a handful of shark and ray species, including the whale shark, basking shark, great white shark, and sawfishes, are given protection listing under CITES, but many more species are under threat.
Nearly one out of five shark species is classified on the IUCN’s Red List as Threatened. That doesn’t include hundreds of species (almost half of all sharks) whose population status cannot be assessed because of lack of information. Scientists warn that, in actuality, a third of sharks might already be threatened.
Priority species for CITES listing in March 2013 are:
* Porbeagle shark
* Oceanic whitetip shark
* Scalloped hammerhead shark
* Giant manta ray and reef manta ray
* Devil rays
In addition to efforts to enlist support for CITES listings, Project AWARE has sponsored a motion at the congress calling for limiting catches of mako sharks. Other shark related motions included calls for review of all shark and ray species on IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species for possible CITES regulation and protections for hammerhead sharks. Unlike many bony fish species, most sharks and rays are long-lived, late-to-mature, and produce few young, which makes them particularly vulnerable to overfishing and their populations slow to recover once depleted.
Overfishing is driving sharks and rays to the brink of extinction. It’s high time that threatened and highly traded sharks and rays get the protection that many terrestrial animals have received from CITES. A commitment by the international community is crucial.
Join us in ensuring the right actions are taken on behalf of sharks and rays at CITES in March 2013. Your voice and the success of our CITES shark petition allow Project AWARE’s policy team to make profound arguments for change at critical events such at the IUCN congress. Thank you for supporting our work!