Update: Following heavy opposition from several countries, ICCAT failed to adopt a proposal to strengthen the current ban on shark finning through requiring vessels to land sharks with fins naturally attached.
Cape Town, South Africa, 19th November 2013—The meeting currently underway in Cape Town of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) should be used to strengthen compliance with existing shark conservation measures by all 47 members of the Commission, believe TRAFFIC and WWF.
TRAFFIC and WWF are concerned with the level of over-harvesting of sharks worldwide, which has resulted in the serious depletion of many shark populations to supply the demand for fins, meat and liver oil.
ICCAT has been responsible for conservation of certain marine species in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas since it came into force in 1969 and recently reviewed the stocks of several shark species. As a result, the retention of Bigeye Thresher and Oceanic Whitetip sharks has been banned, and Hammerhead and Silky Sharks can only be retained by developing countries for domestic consumption — there is no allowance for international trade — and catches of these species cannot be increased.
“Although ICCAT has introduced some shark protection measures—and was the first tuna regional fisheries management organization to do so—there is plenty of room for improvement,” said Colman O’Criodain, WWF’s Wildlife Trade Policy Analyst.
“Furthermore, shark management measures are only as good as the compliance that goes with them—and ICCAT needs to strengthen its monitoring of compliance by all members.”
“Sustainable catch limits also need to be established that take into account all shark mortalities and catch and trade documentation/tagging systems need to be introduced to allow the tracking of shark products to ensure they originate from legitimate catches,” said Glenn Sant, Fisheries Trade Programme Leader for TRAFFIC.
Under current ICCAT regulations, the separate storage of fins and shark carcasses on a vessel only requires a 5% fin to carcass weight to be adhered to.
“ICCAT should require the landing of all sharks with fins attached, to allow for better species identification and thus better monitoring of shark fisheries,” said Sant.
In March this year several shark species were added to the CITES Appendices at the 16th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES).
They included the Oceanic Whitetip shark, Porbeagle, Scalloped Hammerhead shark, Great Hammerhead shark, Smooth Hammerhead shark and Manta rays.
All have incurred dramatic reductions in their populations as a direct result of fishing and trading in their products and most are species regularly caught within ICCAT’s jurisdiction.
“These species have declined due to a lack of management and a lack of responsibility by fishing nations and regional fisheries management organizations to bring fishing under control,” said Sant.
“ICCAT and its members have made a start on addressing these issues, but need to address shark management comprehensively.”
The CITES listings will come into force in September 2014, after which, nations trading internationally in these species will be required to demonstrate that catches are within sustainable levels.
With several nations fishing within ICCAT’s jurisdiction, regional co-operation will be needed to arrive at a decision on the sustainability of the catches—and hence whether a CITES permit can be issued.
“If countries do not co-operate on setting acceptable catch levels, it will rapidly become a race to the bottom for some shark species,” said O’Criodain
Update: TRAFFIC has joined with a coalition of NGOs to issue a joint position statement on shark conservation and management directed at ICCAT (PDF, 400 KB). The statement was prepared by Shark Advocates International, Defenders of Wildlife, Project AWARE, Shark Trust, World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, Humane Society International, and TRAFFIC.