International Shark Debates put U.S. Positions in Spotlight

Date: November 12, 2019

Continued leadership at Atlantic fisheries meeting could save Endangered makos and combat finning

Washington, DC. November 12, 2019. Conservationists are looking to the U.S. 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 ban retention of seriously overfished shortfin makos, based on sobering new scientific advice, and (2) to require that all sharks that are allowed to be landed have their fins still attached, to ease finning ban enforcement. The U.S. has led efforts to strengthen the ICCAT finning ban for a decade. Despite recent cutbacks, the U.S. still ranked third among 53 ICCAT Parties in 2018 for North Atlantic shortfin mako landings (taken in recreational and commercial fisheries); the government’s position on a mako ban proposed by Senegal is not yet clear.

“The U.S. has been a global leader in shark conservation for decades and never has its support for scientific advice and the precautionary approach been more crucial,” said Sonja Fordham, president of Shark Advocates International. “ICCAT faces a critical juncture in shark fisheries management, and the U.S. approach to upcoming debates could decide whether the body continues to fail these vulnerable species or takes a turn toward responsible measures 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.

In March 2019, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified the shortfin (and longfin) mako as Endangered, based on Red List criteria. In August, the U.S. voted against a successful proposal to list both species on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The U.S. — like all CITES Parties (including all ICCAT Parties) — will be required by late November to demonstrate that mako exports are sourced from legal, sustainable fisheries, and is already leading the world in taking steps to do so.

“Concerned citizens can help by voicing support for continued U.S. leadership in the adoption of scientific advice and best practices for fisheries taking sharks,” continued Fordham. “For endangered makos, nothing matters more at this moment than ICCAT’s 2019 decisions, and U.S. support for the ban that scientists advise is crucial. It’s truly make or break time for this species.”

ICCAT’s shark finning ban relies on a complicated fin-to-body weight ratio that is difficult to enforce. Requiring that sharks be landed with fins attached is the most reliable way to prevent finning. U.S.- led “fins attached” proposals now boast majority support from ICCAT Parties. Opposition from Japan, however, has prevented consensus to date.

Media contact:  Patricia Roy, email:, telephone: +34 696 905 907.

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 (

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