Conservationists expressed shock and distress on 25 November at the news that the European Union and the United States were the main obstacles to the adoption of urgently needed protections for mako sharks at the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), despite long promoting science-based shark conservation.
Ten countries, led by Senegal and Canada, proposed and fought for consensus on banning retention of seriously overfished North Atlantic shortfin makos, as ICCAT scientists advise. “Yet the EU and US refused to give up on exceptions for hundreds of tons of the Endangered species to be landed,” according to a press release from ICCAT and Shark Advocates International. ICCAT scientists estimate this population could take four or five decades to recover, even if fishing stops. Lack of consensus allows status quo fishing at unsustainable levels to continue.
Remedy pulled out of reach
“North Atlantic mako depletion is among the world’s most pressing shark conservation crises,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International. “A clear and simple remedy was within reach. Yet the EU and US put short-term fishing interests above all else and ruined a golden opportunity for real progress. It’s truly disheartening and awful.”
The science-based North Atlantic mako ban was jointly proposed by Senegal, Canada, the Gambia, Gabon, Panama, Liberia, Guatemala, Angola, El Salvador, and Egypt. And it was supported on the floor by Norway, Guinea Bissau, Uruguay, Japan, China, and Taiwan. No countries spoke in favor of the competing EU or US proposals, although Curaçao added their name to the US proposal.
Not subject to fishing quotas
Shortfin makos are particularly valuable sharks, sought for meat, fins, and sport. Slow growth makes them exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing. Makos are fished by many nations around the globe yet not subject to international fishing quotas. The EU, US, Senegal, and Canada ranked first, third, fourth, and fifth, respectively, among 53 ICCAT Parties in 2018 for North Atlantic shortfin mako landings. Spain is responsible for more mako landings than any other country.
“The EU’s behavior with respect to mako conservation is a travesty. Their obstruction of vital, science-based protections will allow vast fleets from Spain and Portugal to continue to fish these Endangered sharks, essentially without limit, and drive valuable populations toward collapse,” said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust.
Scientists warn that South Atlantic shortfin makos are on a similar path. Senegal had included a science-based catch limit for this population in their proposal. ICCAT Parties plan to hold a special intersessional meeting next year to continue mako talks.
Inspiration to continue
“Amid the pathetic failure for mako sharks, steadfast leadership by Canada and Senegal provided conservationists with inspiration to carry on with the fight,” said Shannon Arnold, Marine Program Coordinator for Ecology Action Centre. “The Shark League will continue to work with the world’s emerging shark champions to encourage more countries to place long-term conservation over short-term economic gain and ensure North Atlantic makos are protected before it’s too late.”
On the plus side, ICCAT said it did adopt groundbreaking new catch limits for blue sharks that represent a first for the world. Regional fishery bodies have banned take of several shark species but had yet to set concrete international catch limits for sharks, until now. Science-based limits on landed blue shark tonnage will be established for both the North and South Atlantic. In addition, ICCAT adopted revised text that, once ratified, will modernize the Convention and strengthen the remit for shark conservation.
A record number of Parties (33 of the 47 present) cosponsored a proposal to strengthen ICCAT’s ban on finning (slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea) by replacing a problematic fin-to-carcass ratio with a more enforceable requirement for sharks to be landed with fins attached. As they have repeatedly in the past, Japan and China blocked the measure.