November 28, 2010

Six Endangered Sharks Now Protected Species

A fisheries group decided on Saturday that half-a-dozen species of endangered sharks hunted on the high seas to satisfy a burgeoning Asian market for sharkfin soup are now protected in the Atlantic.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) said that scalloped, smooth and great hammerheads, along with oceanic white tip, cannot be targeted or kept if caught accidentally.

Three other types of hammerhead sharks are also included in the ban, including smalleye, scoophead and whitefin.

A proposal submitted by the European Union (EU) hopes to extend the same level of protection to the porbeagle shark, which is critically endangered in the northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean.

"Canada was adamant that they were not going to let its porbeagle fishery go," said Elizabeth Wilson, a marine scientist at Washington-based advocacy group Oceana.

The decisions on sharks follow 10 days of closed-door haggling at the 48-member ICCAT, which is expected to announce quotas and other measures on bluefin tuna.

ICCAT is in charge of ensuring that commercial fisheries are sustainable and it has the authority to set quotas and restrictions.

According to a recent report, at least 1.3 million sharks were harvested from the Atlantic in 2008 by industrial-scale fisheries unhampered by catch or size limits.

The actual number is expected to be higher because of under-reporting.

The only other shark species subject to a fishing ban in the Atlantic is the big-eye thresher.

"These decisions increase the chances that these species will continue to swim in the Atlantic," Matt Rand, a shark expert with the Pew Environment Group, told AFP.

"But there's a lot more work to be done. Fifty percent of open water sharks in the world are threatened with extinction," he said, citing the classification of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The U.S. wants to require that all sharks be brought back to shore whole, but that push failed to muster up the needed majority.

Another U.S. proposal to establish quotas for the shortfin mako shark also fell short.

"Half the countries at the meeting were opposed," said Wilson.
She explained that while willing to ban catches of certain species that are already in sharp decline, these nations do not want to set a precedent of establishing quotas for sharks with relatively healthy populations.

There are no multinational limits on shark fishing anywhere in the world.

However, ICCAT did call for data collection on the shortfin mako to help scientists measure population levels.

The committee also voted a measure requiring commercial fishermen to remove hooks and netting from accidentally caught sea turtles.

According to IUCN, North Atlantic populations of the oceanic white tip have dropped by 70 percent, and hammerheads by over 99 percent.
Regional studies have found that when shark populations crash, the impact cascades down through the food chain, often in unpredictable ways.


Image Caption: Hammerhead shark (Image Courtesy: Wikipedia/Suneko)

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