October 29, 2008

Scientists Urge Shark Ban

Atlantic sharks may have hope for the future thanks to an international team of scientists who want to ban the catching of eight species.

They want to add a strict limit on the catch of two others to try to prevent population crashes.

Sharks are vulnerable to over-fishing because they reproduce and grow slowly. However, there are currently no international limits on shark catch according to the non-profit Lenfest Ocean Program.

The group found in a study that 10 species of Atlantic sharks are at serious risk of being over fished.

They recommended banning the catch of bigeye thresher, longfin mako, oceanic whitetip, porbeagle, common thresher, silky, smooth hammerhead and crocodile sharks. They urged a strict limit on the catch of blue and shortfin mako sharks.

"Our results show very clearly that there is a critical need to take management action to prevent shark population depletion and maintain ecosystem function," said lead author Colin Simpfendorfer of Australia's James Cook University.

The scientists said the world's open ocean shark species are declining because they get caught in long fishing lines meant to catch tuna and swordfish.

Charlotte Hudson of the Lenfest program said as the number of traditional target fish like tuna and swordfish declines, demand for shark meat and shark fins increases.

Shark experts from Australia, Belgium, Croatia, South Africa and the United States used available data on shark populations along with risk analysis to estimate which species were most at risk.

"There are lots of fish in the ocean, but sharks are special because their biology allows them not to have as many babies a year, so that they reproduce much more slowly," Hudson said. "Therefore, when you kill adults, you really reduce the population much faster, because you're reducing the ability of the population to sustain itself."

Their recommendations were aimed at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, known as ICCAT.

ICCAT is known for managing tuna populations, but conservationists see this organization as the only body that could impose Atlantic-wide restrictions on the taking of sharks in tuna fishing gear.


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