Respecting our Greenland Shark Elders and Elevating Skates at NAFO

Date: October 20, 2017

Several Northwest Atlantic shark and ray (elasmobranch) populations under the purview of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization’s (NAFO)are in a precarious state and in need of domestic and international safeguards. Two representatives of the Shark League for the Atlantic and Mediterranean attended the 39th annual meeting of NAFO in Montreal, Canada this September to advocate on behalf of these species and lay the groundwork for conservation action in 2018.

NAFO is an intergovernmental fisheries science and management body that comprises of 12 member governments. NAFO’s purpose is to “ensure the long term conservation and sustainable use of the fishery resources in the Convention Area and, in so doing, to safeguard the marine ecosystems in which these resources are found”. NAFO began limiting the region’s international skate fisheries in 2004, but quotas have remained higher than the level advised by scientists. The excessive catch limits leave room for serious overfishing, particularly for depleted thorny skates. There is also need to examine the sustainability of exceptionally vulnerable deep sea shark species, such as the Greenland shark, that are taken incidentally in NAFO fisheries.

The Shark League coalition is seeking the following for elasmobranchs under NAFO:

  • Science-based catch limits based on the precautionary approach;
  • Measures to improve bycatch reporting and minimize discard mortality; and
  • Protections for especially vulnerable species.

Upcoming scientific evaluation of the status of key Northwest Atlantic elasmobranchs presents an opportunity to advance conservation of these species. In June 2018, NAFO’s Scientific Council will complete fisheries management advice on thorny skates and Greenland sharks for consideration by NAFO in September. The group is half-way through their first examination of the Greenland shark situation, and so presented key, relevant, and amazing biological information on the species this year. NAFO member governments thereby learned that Greenland sharks are incredibly long-lived, estimated to mature at ~150 years of age and live 400 years or more!

Our team took some creative approaches this year in order to raise awareness among NAFO members on the need to safeguard these species next year. We were delighted that the bar at the meeting hotel was willing to assist our efforts by featuring a Greenland Shark cocktail all week. Many NAFO delegates enjoyed these drinks, sparking discussions about just how vulnerable these incredibly long-lived sharks are, and why they need protection.

To accompany the drinks, we made coasters featuring Greenland sharks and thorny skates. On one side of the coasters were some facts about the species and on the other, some related pub trivia!

During the meeting, we also distributed a 4-page fact sheet to detail our priorities and underlying arguments for protections.

We are hopeful that our work at NAFO this year helped to set the stage for decisive conservation action for these vulnerable animals in 2018.

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