Sharks heads at a processing factory © TRAFFIC

Sharks heads at a processing factory © TRAFFIC


Published 11 December 2020


IUCN Red List update highlights perilous state of world shark populations

Cambridge, UK, 11th December 2020—the extinction threats to more than 420 sharks and related species were announced this week in the latest Red List analyses from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They make for sobering reading: 316 species of sharks and other chondrichthyans (sharks, rays, skates, and chimaeras) are now considered threatened with extinction, many of them as a direct consequence of overharvesting for their meat, fins and oil. 

They include, for the first time, the presumed extinction of one shark species—the Lost Shark Carcharhinus obsoletus—which was only described from museum specimens last year. Others at risk include four species each of hammerhead and angel sharks, all of which are either Endangered or Critically Endangered, making them among the world’s most threatened shark families. 

The overharvesting of sharks for their meat is known to be a significant extinction threat. Preliminary findings from TRAFFIC’s ongoing analysis finds the total quantity of reported global trade in shark meat was fairly stable between 2008 and 2011, before increasing from 2012–2017.[1] However, a serious lack of data collection and reporting on the species caught and traded obscures underlying trends in shark populations, with new species targeted as supplies of others dry up so that overall landings remain stable. 

“On the outside, stable annual catches give the false impression that everything is fine, but in reality they could be masking the serial depletion of species—as soon as one is fished out, the industry simply targets the next, so that one by one they disappear,” said TRAFFIC’s Senior Advisor on Fisheries and Vice Chair of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group, Glenn Sant. 

Sant points to the need for traceability of products being imported and exported to understand what they are and where they come from.

Fisheries need to get serious about better data collection and reporting—how can you manage something if you don’t know what’s going on under the surface?” 

Glenn Sant, TRAFFIC's Senior Advisor on FisheriesDuring the COVID pandemic, catches of sharks and rays appear to have risen, although the levels of monitoring have fallen due to social distancing requirements. 

“This could be a recipe for disaster when overlayed with the already limited monitoring and management, but without improvements in these critical areas, the Lost Shark will inevitably be the first in a long line of shark extinctions,” said Sant.


1. Okes and Sant 2020 (in prep.).