ICCAT fishery managers aim to cap North Atlantic blue shark catch as momentum to ban at-sea fin removal grows
Fishing nations gathered for the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) have taken a small yet unprecedented step toward establishing limits on blue shark catches from the North Atlantic, but failed to act on scientific advice to do the same for the South Atlantic. Countries also mounted an extraordinary effort to strengthen the international ban on shark “finning” that was eventually thwarted by Japan and China.
“Sharks are among the oceans’ most inherently vulnerable animals, and unenforceable half-measures are not enough to conserve them,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International. “While we welcome Atlantic nations’ growing interest in preventing shark finning, and their recognition that blue shark fishing cannot continue without limit, we are deeply disappointed that much scientific advice has gone unheeded, and that the region’s finning ban will remain weak despite the will of more than 30 countries.”
Blue sharks are fished by many countries, most of which do not limit catch. They dominate the shark landings from ICCAT fisheries and the global shark fin trade. Atlantic blue shark landings tripled in the last decade. To prevent overfishing, ICCAT scientists have recommended capping blue shark catches, particularly in the South Atlantic. An EU proposal to limit blue shark landings from both the North and South Atlantic was watered down by Japan and others; Brazil blocked conservation action for the South Atlantic. The final agreement triggers ICCAT consideration, but not necessarily catch limits, if North Atlantic blue shark landings exceed recent levels (~39,000 metric tons).
More than 85% of reported North Atlantic blue shark landings have been taken by EU vessels in recent years.
“It is critical to recognize that ICCAT’s new blue shark measure applies only to the North Atlantic and depends on follow-up actions by individual nations in the short-term and by ICCAT in the long-term,” said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust. “Given that Spanish vessels take the lion’s share of the North Atlantic blue shark catch, it now falls squarely with the EU to immediately set blue shark catch limits, in line with commitments made today. Only with such EU action can this half-measure result in meaningful blue shark conservation.”
Eighty percent of ICCAT Parties attending the meeting supported a US-led, multi-national effort to strengthen the ICCAT finning ban by replacing a problematic fin-to-carcass ratio with a more enforceable prohibition on removing fins at sea. Norway, Liberia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, Curaçao, and Libya co-sponsored this year’s “fins-attached” proposal, along with 23 other ICCAT Parties that proposed the measure last year. For the first time, Canada spoke in favor of the ban and Korea did not voice opposition. The EU, South Africa, Venezuela, Iceland, Russia, Senegal, and several other West African nations joined the chorus of support offered on the floor. In the end, however, Japan and China – with a little help from Morocco — blocked the proposal.
“We are dismayed that just a few countries have yet again stood in the way of an enforceable ICCAT finning ban proposed by 30 Parties from all sides of the Atlantic,” said Ania Budziak, Associate Director for Project AWARE. “We are heartened, however, by the compelling demonstration of support for fins-attached rules from developing and developed countries alike, and encourage continued momentum towards this best practice.”
The conservation groups will continue to press ICCAT and its members to limit shark fishing and prevent finning.