Proposals to ban Endangered Atlantic makos and combat finning put African positions in spotlight
November, 2019. Conservationists are looking to Africa for leadership ahead of an international fisheries meeting that could turn the tide for Endangered mako sharks and help prevent finning (slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea). At its November 18-25 meeting in Mallorca, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) will consider at least two shark conservation proposals: (1) to prohibit retention of seriously overfished shortfin makos, based on sobering new scientific advice, and (2) to require that all sharks landed have their fins still attached to ease finning ban enforcement. Senegal has proposed the first and is cosponsoring the second with 21 other ICCAT Parties.
Of the 53 ICCAT Parties, Morocco ranks second for landings of depleted North Atlantic shortfin mako sharks. The Senegal-based Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission is encouraging its other member States — Cabo Verde, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, and Sierra Leone – to promote Senegal’s proposal for a mako ban. Liberia has also expressed support.
“We applaud Senegal for continued leadership in international shark conservation and, in particular, for proposing the vital mako shark ban that scientists advise,” said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for Shark Trust. “ICCAT faces a critical juncture in shark fisheries management, and the stance of African nations – particularly Morocco — could decide whether the body continues to fail these vulnerable species or takes a turn toward responsible decisions that set positive global precedents.”
The shortfin mako is a particularly valuable shark, sought for meat, fins, and sport. Slow growth makes them exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing. ICCAT scientists warn that recovery of shortfin makos in the North Atlantic would take ~25 years even if none were caught. They recommend that fishermen be prohibited from retaining any shortfin makos from this population.
Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Gabon, the Gambia, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, and Togo were among the cosponsors for a successful proposal to list the shortfin (and longfin) mako on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in August. CITES Parties (including all ICCAT Parties) will be required by late November to demonstrate that mako exports are sourced from legal, sustainable fisheries. In March, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified both mako species as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
“The overwhelming support for listing makos under CITES demonstrates growing global interest in ending the overexploitation of sharks,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International. “Our focus now shifts back to fisheries bodies to carry out these and other conservation commitments. Progress at ICCAT is essential and depends on other Parties, including many African nations, following Senegal’s lead toward protecting makos and preventing finning.”
ICCAT’s shark finning ban relies on a complicated fin-to-body weight ratio. Requiring that sharks be landed with fins attached is the most reliable way to enforce finning bans. Most ICCAT Parties support “fins attached” policies. Cabo Verde, Gabon, Ghana, Sao Tomé and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and South Africa are cosponsoring the proposal. Japan has blocked consensus.
Shark Advocates International is a project of The Ocean Foundation dedicated to securing science-based policies for sharks and rays. The Shark Trust is a UK charity working to safeguard the future of sharks through positive change. Focused on sharks in peril and marine debris, Project AWARE is a global movement for ocean protection powered by a community of adventurers. Ecology Action Centre promotes sustainable, ocean-based livelihoods, and marine conservation in Canada and internationally. These groups, with support from the Shark Conservation Fund, formed the Shark League to advance responsible regional shark and ray conservation policies (www.sharkleague.org).