The new ban on shortfin mako landings from high seas North Atlantic fisheries coincides with similar prohibitions just imposed by Spain. The combined actions of these two fishing powers could just turn the tide for this endangered population.
The Shark League is congratulating the Portuguese government for taking action to protect one of the world’s most valuable and threatened shark species, the shortfin mako. A new moratorium on landing applies to shortfin makos caught in North Atlantic high seas fisheries, the source of most of Portugal’s mako catch. News of the ban comes just as even broader mako protections by Spain are coming to light. Because these two countries are responsible for ~65% of the total landings of North Atlantic makos, their combined actions have great potential to stem serious overfishing and save this particularly depleted population from collapse.
Scientists have long recommended dramatic cutbacks in North Atlantic shortfin mako fishing, starting with a complete ban on retention. That advice has gone largely unheeded until now.
“We welcome Portugal’s mako ban as a big step toward addressing one of the world’s most pressing shark conservation crises,” said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust. “We urge the Portuguese government to extend this much needed protection to domestic waters and to join us in encouraging other top mako fishing nations – particularly Morocco — to follow suit.”
The European Commission has only recently proposed the first EU fishing quotas for North Atlantic shortfin makos. That 288t limit is a serious departure from the scientific advice and now conflicts with national measures adopted by the EU’s top two shark fishing Member States. A final EU policy decision from the Council of EU fisheries ministers has not yet been announced. Having just taken up the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Portugal is well-placed to use its influence to benefit makos though harmonized EU policy in line with scientific advice.
While the European Commission’s fisheries department has long fought against the mako protections advised by fisheries scientists, the Commission’s environment department cosponsored a successful 2019 proposal to include mako sharks on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Pursuant to the CITES listing, countries around the world are now obligated to ensure that mako exports and landings introduced from the high seas come from legal, sustainable fisheries. Consequently, a December 2020 opinion from the EU’s trade review panel concluded that EU Member States should cease all shortfin mako trade sourced from the North Atlantic. This action appears to be the catalyst for mako bans by both Portugal and Spain, while the inconsistency with fisheries policy illustrates a chronic and problematic gap that hinders shark conservation around the world.
The unilateral mako bans follow similar national protection by Canada, but effective recovery of the highly migratory North Atlantic population requires an international agreement by many fishing nations through the regional fisheries management body: the International Commission for Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Proposals for an ICCAT North Atlantic shortfin mako ban have support from at least 15 countries but have been repeatedly blocked by the EU.
The mako protection news comes just as a major study in Nature warns that global oceanic shark abundance has plunged 71% since 1970, leaving 77% of species threatened with extinction.
Study co-author and Shark Advocates International President, Sonja Fordham, added “If Portugal and Spain – two of the world’s top mako fishing nations — hold firm with these science-based safeguards, we have a real chance to save this beleaguered shark population from irreparable collapse. Success depends on the immediate adoption of similar mako bans by the whole of the EU as well as North Atlantic-wide protection through ICCAT.”