EU and US Impede Momentum Toward Vital Mako Shark Protections

Date: July 9, 2021

Decision on North Atlantic ICCAT ban – championed by Canada, Gabon, Senegal, and the UK – stalled again

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London, UK. July 9, 2021. Conservationists are deeply unhappy that the European Union and the United States once again obstructed agreement on urgently needed mako shark protections during this week’s special Committee negotiations of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Canada and seven other Parties proposed a ban on retaining seriously overfished North Atlantic shortfin makos, as scientists have long advised. The EU and US refused to go along, insisting on exceptions for continued landings of the endangered species, despite receiving only opposition in response. The resulting delay in consensus allows unsustainable fishing on this shared population to continue. ICCAT scientists estimate recovery could take five decades, even if fishing were to stop immediately.

“The depletion of North Atlantic makos is one the world’s most egregious yet solvable shark conservation crises,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International, a non-profit project of The Ocean Foundation. “Focused on short-term economic interests, the EU and the US have repeatedly thwarted international adoption of a complete retention ban that scientists deem central to reversing serious population decline. This obstruction is especially disheartening given the growing number of governments that are trying to protect the species before it’s too late.”

Shortfin makos are particularly valuable sharks sought for meat, fins, and sport. Slow growth makes them exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing. Makos are fished by fleets from many nations yet not subject to international fishing quotas. Spain, Morocco, Portugal, and the US (in that order) are the highest-ranking countries for North Atlantic mako landings. EU Member States were responsible for 74% of landings reported for 2020. Spain’s 2020 landings alone were enough to overfish the population. The EU focuses on dead, discarded makos in arguing against the ban but does not report the makos that its vessels discard. The US is the only Party proposing exceptions for killing live makos. US recreational landings increased from 2019 to 2020 by an estimated 13t. Canada unilaterally banned North Atlantic shortfin mako retention in 2020.

“It was frustrating to watch the meeting devolve into a labyrinth-like bureaucratic charade over exceedingly complex proposals from two Parties insisting on access to this endangered shark,” said Shannon Arnold, Marine Program Coordinator for Ecology Action Centre. “Makos are valuable sharks that the Canadian fleet would also like to keep. But in the face of this pressure, Canadian fishery managers heeded science and prioritized long-term sustainability. Our government is leading, and our industry has sacrificed, but Canada alone cannot save this highly migratory species. We need the US and the EU to stop stalling and get on board with the simple, science-based, and urgently needed remedy: a complete ban on retention.”

The proposal for a ban was cosponsored by Canada, Gabon, Sierra Leone, the United Kingdom, Senegal, Taiwan, Guinea-Bissau, and The Gambia and supported on the floor by Norway, Japan, and Algeria.

“For ages, the UK championed shark conservation within the EU and it’s exciting to now watch the country come into its own as a vocal, independent force for mako protection,” said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust. “But the departure left a void within the EU that Member States are not yet stepping up to fill. The makos are paying the price as the European Commission presses on, focused on longliners’ desires and trying to poke holes in sound science. And all to eke out a few hundred tons that amounts to little for individual vessels but can push this beleaguered population over the brink.”

Talks will continue in the coming months with an aim to agree a conservation plan at the November annual ICCAT meeting.

Media contact: Patricia Roy email: patricia@communicationsinc.co.uk, Tel: +34 696 905 907.

Notes to Editors: 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. Ecology Action Centre promotes sustainable, ocean-based livelihoods, and marine conservation in Canada and internationally. PADI AWARE Foundation is a publicly funded non-profit organization with a mission to drive local action for global ocean conservation. These groups, with support from the Shark Conservation Fund, formed the Shark League to advance science-based regional fishing policies.

ICCAT is responsible for the conservation of tunas and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas. ICCAT has 52 Contracting Parties, including the European Union. ICCAT scientists updated the status of Atlantic shortfin mako sharks in 2019.

The shortfin mako is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

The EU was one of 28 cosponsors of a successful proposal to list mako sharks on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2019. CITES Parties (including all ICCAT Parties) are required to demonstrate that mako exports are sourced from legal, sustainable fisheries. In late 2020, an EU expert panel reviewing mako obligations under CITES issued an opinion that EU Member States should end North Atlantic shortfin mako imports, including those introduced from the high seas.

As a result, Spain and Portugal adopted landings bans, although implementation and associated transparency are lacking.  

Conservationists have raised concern over inconsistencies in governments’ shark conservation actions across treaties and the associated rhetoric vs. reality.

In 2017, ICCAT mandated that North Atlantic makos brought to boat alive must be carefully released, unless the country has imposed a minimum size limit (at the length of maturity) or a discard ban (that prevents profit). Dead makos can be still be landed (and sold) by boats under 12 meters, and by larger vessels under certain conditions for monitoring catch and reporting data. The measure failed to result in the catch reductions needed to even end overfishing. Landings by several top mako fishing countries rose in 2020.

Shortfin makos ranked first among 20 pelagic shark stocks for vulnerability to ICCAT fisheries based on Euclidean distance and third overall in an Ecological Risk Assessment for sharks conducted by ICCAT scientists in 2012.

The July 2021 ICCAT negotiations were conducted by conference all due to COVID-19.

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