Published 22 February 2007

Sharks see red

Oxford, UK, 22 February 2007—Oceanic shark numbers are declining through overfishing, and several species have been added to the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Shortfin Mako, a favorite with fishermen, has been uplisted to Vulnerable ©IUCN

“The qualities of pelagic sharks—fast, powerful and wide ranging—too often leads to a misperception that they are resilient to fishing pressure,” said Sarah Fowler, Co-Chair of the World Conservation Union's Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC) Shark Specialist Group.

But sharks are susceptible to overfishing because most species grow slowly, mature late, and produce few young.

Mediterranean populations of Porbeagle and Shortfin Mako are severely overfished, and the European Union has proposed listing the Porbeagle under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), whose parties meet this June in the Netherlands.

Pelagic sharks are frequent by-catch in high seas tuna and swordfish fisheries, and are increasingly targeted as new markets for their meat develop and demand for their valuable fins grows. Bans on shark “finning” have been adopted in most international waters, but lack effective enforcement. Shark bodies are frequently discarded into the sea, often with the animals still alive. Scalloped Hammerhead shark was uplisted from Near Threatened to Endangered; its fins are highly prized for shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy.

“There is an urgent need for international fishery commissions to limit fishing for these vulnerable species and strengthen regulations on the wasteful practice of finning,” said Sonja Fordham, Deputy Chair of the SSG and Policy Director for the Shark Alliance.

All three species of thresher sharks, known for their long scythe-like tails, have been classified as Vulnerable. Shortfin Mako, a favorite with commercial and recreational fishermen, was uplisted from Near Threatened to Vulnerable. Blue Shark, the world’s most abundant and heavily fished pelagic shark, remains as Near Threatened, although the scientists noted declines of 50–70% in the North Atlantic and expressed concern over the lack of conservation measures for the species.

The revised Red Listings for sharks were announced following a workshop of international experts convened by the IUCN's Shark Specialist Group. The workshop was funded by the Lenfest Ocean Series Programme. Experts from government agencies, universities, non-governmental organizatons, and private institutions in the UK, US, Canada, European Union, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Croatia and Ecuador attended.