Blacktip reef shark Carcharhinus melanopterus © / Cheryl-Samantha Owen / WWF

sustainable fisheries sustainable management and traceability systems are the ways forward

Blacktip reef shark Carcharhinus melanopterus © / Cheryl-Samantha Owen / WWF


sustainable fisheries: our perspective and priorities

There has been long-standing global concern for shark and ray populations under pressure from consumer demand for their fins, meat, skin, and liver oil. This has now reached crisis point.

Historically, most fisheries have taken place in the absence of even the most basic forms of management. In 2014, the IUCN Shark Specialist Group assessed the conservation status of over 100 shark and ray species, finding that there is a severe lack of data on sharks and rays at large. Today, the latest 2021 IUCN Red List assessment finds that over one-third are threatened with extinction and that overfishing is one of the biggest threats to their survival.


sharks are caught every year

Glenn Sant, Fisheries Programme Leader

Many of our oceans are being dangerously over-exploited. This doesn’t just threaten marine species and ecosystems but the livelihoods of some of the world’s poorest communities

Glenn Sant, Fisheries Programme Leader



Take an interactive deep dive into some of TRAFFIC’s marine work, from the ocean surface to the seabed.

Open Interactive Storymap

a background to sustainable fisheries

turning the tide

There is growing acceptance at the international level that management of shark and ray fisheries is critical if further overexploitation of these resources is to be curtailed.

Broad, but non-binding commitments have been made by States to resolve the issue, however, many governments lack the resources, expertise, and political will necessary to effectively conserve the vast majority of sharks and rays. As a result, many of these species have continued to decline and international calls for a ban on products such as shark fins are on the increase. Recent years have revealed an increasing array of aquatic species also threatened by mismanagement of fisheries.

Great White Sahrk Carcharodon carcharias © Wildlife Pictures / Jêrome Mallefet / WWF


conserving sharks through sustainable trade

There is no doubt that current levels of catch and consumption of sharks poses a direct threat to the continued survival of many species.

The past 20 years has seen increasing recognition of the need to manage sharks and rays meaning provisions should continue to be made for trade-related management controls such as CITES to be put in place for a range of vulnerable species.

Broader responsibility is being taken by stakeholders to establish the provenance of the products they are carrying and selling. Such increasing awareness and concrete action represents a valuable start on the road to sustainability. However, without greater political will from some major fishing nations that have a long history of blocking action to manage shark and ray fisheries at sustainable levels, all the good work by other governments will be undermined and depletion of these resources will continue. It is crucial, therefore, that commitment is enshrined in binding measures by governments and regional organisations responsible for managing fisheries.

Rather than pursuing highly contentious and almost insurmountably complicated policies such as shark fin bans, establishing and enforcing traceability systems and responsibly managed fisheries should be the focus. The greatest challenge lies with the consumer, in ensuring that any shark products we purchase are from sustainable sources.

It is therefore also down to governments and stakeholders throughout supply chains to ensure that this information is readily available, that the standards are scientifically set, and that regulations are effectively enforced.

protecting Southern Bluefin Tuna

Southern Bluefin Tuna Thunnus maccoyii, classed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List™, is popularly consumed as a delicacy in fashionable sashimi restaurants in Asia, predominantly in Japan, China and Hong Kong.

Management of Southern Bluefin Tuna stocks, is undertaken by the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT), a regional fisheries management member-based organisation which sets total allowable catches for Members and Co-operating Non-Members to the Commission.

A recent TRAFFIC report, The Southern Bluefin Market in China, has found that SBT is being served in restaurants in mainland China, particularly in China. These findings are highly significant given that China is a non-member of the CCSBT. Customs data analysed by TRAFFIC could also indicate rising demand for sashimi tuna in China, further supported after a Chinese vessel was found with 100 tonnes of misdeclared SBT in 2016.

Japan is a major consumer of SBT, where overfishing has resulted in major population declines that threaten to drive the species to extinction in the wild if urgent changes are not made to international regulations.

Trade chain traceability – including tuna offered for sale in restaurants as well as on e-commerce platforms – is absolutely vital, particularly given its potential rise in popularity within the huge Chinese market and the impact this could have on already threatened SBT stocks.

abalone poaching and the wider social crisis

Abalone Haliotis spp. is a sea snail that lives in shallow water, is slow moving, slow growing and late to reproduce, thus making it highly vulnerable to overexploitation. It has been growing in popularity in Asian markets, driving severe levels of overexploitation and illegal trade, particularly in the South African species Haliotis midae.

TRAFFIC first flagged criminal involvement in the abalone trade in 2014, revealing that organised crime, drugs, and poverty were behind the burgeoning poaching crisis. Local South African gangs with ties to sophisticated East Asian crime syndicates are exploiting (and contributing) to socio-economic problems in South Africa by paying for illegally harvested abalone in methamphetamine. Since 2014, little has occurred to stem the flow of illegal abalone from South Africa, or address the social issues enabling such illicit activity.

A subsequent TRAFFIC study into Hong Kong's abalone market found that 90% of all dried South African Abalone is imported by Hong Kong and that 65% of abalone from South Africa is illegally sourced.

Urgent measures need to be taken by governments and the international community to address the scale and wider impact of the illegal abalone trade. Strengthening law enforcement, improving traceability, and raising public awareness, as well as considering CITES listings, are all measures we continue to support.

You can also read: Empty Shells: An assessment of abalone poaching and trade from southern Africa

Empty Shells: An assessment of abalone poaching and trade from southern Africa