Fishery managers agree groundbreaking safeguards for CITES-listed, South Atlantic population
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Faro, Portugal. November 21, 2022. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) today agreed the world’s first population-wide fishing quota for highly vulnerable shortfin mako sharks. ICCAT set a South Atlantic catch limit (to cover landings as well as mortality from discarding) within the level recommended by scientists in 2019 and made allocations to individual fishing Parties that are calculated to cut their landings of the Endangered species by 40-60%. The agreement stems from a more precautionary proposal by the European Union and United Kingdom to extend a 2021 ban on particularly depleted North Atlantic shortfin makos to the South Atlantic. Pushback from Namibia and South Africa resulted in negotiations for short-term limits instead.
“At long last, ICCAT has ended the free-for-all that was South Atlantic mako fishing,” said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for Shark Trust. “Although more lenient than a ban, the new mako landing limits are well placed to achieve a substantial reduction in fishing pressure on the South Atlantic population. We thank the UK and EU for prompting these negotiations and seeing them through to a meaningful result on which we must continuously and ambitiously build.”
Prized for meat, fins, and sport, shortfin makos are exceptionally valuable sharks. Slow growth makes them (and closely related longfin makos) exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing. Countries reporting 2021 catches of South Atlantic makos (Isurus oxyrinchus) include (in order of magnitude): EU (Spain and Portugal), Namibia, Brazil, South Africa, Chinese Taipei.
“The new South Atlantic mako measure is an important step toward the type of management plan that is warranted for such an exceptionally valuable and vulnerable shark,” said Shannon Arnold, Marine Program Coordinator for Ecology Action Centre. “The allocation of a science-based quota among Parties and procedures to prevent overages are sound fishery management elements that we frankly rarely see for oceanic sharks. It’s encouraging that ICCAT is finally getting past the years of stalling and moving toward international leadership in this regard.”
Both mako shark species were classified by the IUCN as globally Endangered in 2019. Subsequent listings on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) require Parties to demonstrate that mako exports – including landings from the high seas — are sourced from legal, sustainable fisheries. Analyses by CITES experts in the EU led to mako cutbacks in 2021 and appear to have prompted the EU’s proposal for a South Atlantic ICCAT ban this year.
“ICCAT’s mako safeguards represent key strides toward closing the problematic gap between countries’ obligations under international fisheries and wildlife treaties, and thereby take a bite out of a central hurdle to effective shark conservation,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International. “We urge all countries to limit fishing for CITES-listed shark species, as a matter or priority. ICCAT leads other regional fisheries bodies in oceanic shark management, which can give Parties an advantage in meeting CITES requirements for evaluating and documenting the sustainability of trade.”
The new measure also directs scientists to examine trends for longfin makos, which remain unprotected outside the US. ICCAT will revisit its provisions for both North and South Atlantic makos after scientists update population status in 2024.
The US, Belize, Brazil, South Africa, UK, Canada, and the EU championed an exceptionally popular, perennial proposal to strengthen the ICCAT shark finning ban by requiring that sharks be landed with their fins still attached. As they have for many years, Japan and China blocked the effort.