US and EU counter with proposals that allow continued landings and risk collapse of Endangered population
Mallorca – Canada will join Senegal in a bid to protect the Endangered mako shark. The proposal comes just hours before an international fisheries meeting that could turn the tide for these Endangered sharks that are fished both in Canadian and international waters. At its November 18-25 meeting in Mallorca, the 53 countries of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) will consider a proposal to prohibit retention of the seriously overfished shortfin mako shark, based on sobering new scientific advice.
Senegal led the way earlier this month by proposing an ICCAT ban on retaining North Atlantic shortfin mako sharks. Today, Canada has co-sponsored this critical conservation measure. The amended proposal goes a step further to include the South Atlantic mako based on ICCAT scientists’ warnings and the precautionary approach.
“We are really pleased to see Canada step up and propose this vital measure to curb mako shark catch and take a strong stand internationally for shark conservation,” said Shannon Arnold, Senior Marine Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre. “Decisions made this week at ICCAT will decide whether the body continues to fail these vulnerable species or reverse the decline of shortfin makos by follows its’ own scientists call for decisive action.”
Despite the scientific advice, the European Union and United States have offered last minute proposals that would allow North Atlantic shortfin mako catches of 500 and 700 tonnes, respectively. These proposals would prolong a recovery period that already spans decades and leaves the South Atlantic population completely unprotected.
The shortfin mako is a particularly valuable shark, sought for meat, fins, and sport. Slow growth makes them exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing. ICCAT’s 2017 shortfin mako population assessment clearly documented serious depletion and overfishing in the North Atlantic. In May, updated projections pushed the earliest possibility for recovery to 2045, five years later than predicted just two years ago.
“Even in this scenario, there’s just a 53% chance that the population will recover,” Arnold says. The potential for recovery has worsened with each passing year. Scientists now recommend that fishermen be prohibited from retaining any shortfin makos from this population.
Despite reduction efforts, Canada still ranked 6th among the 53 countries of ICCAT in 2018 for shortfin mako catch. Canada’s Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) reassessed the shark as Endangered earlier this year. It was listed as globally Endangered according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Canada subsequently supported international trade measures on the species at the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in August.
Today’s proposal indicates Canada is ready to stand up for Atlantic mako sharks, but the true test comes this week. Negotiations start today. Arnold says Canada will face pressure from other Parties attending ICCAT, particularly from EU, the largest catcher of Atlantic mako sharks.
“Canada must not give into pressure and needs to work to gain support from other countries,” says Arnold, “Progress at ICCAT is essential. For Endangered mako sharks, nothing matters more at this moment than ICCAT’s upcoming decisions. We now look to other countries to follow Canada and Senegal’s lead toward protecting makos. It’s truly make or break time.”
ICCAT will also consider a second shark conservation proposal this week that would help prevent finning (slicing off a shark’s fins and disposing its body at sea). This proposal would require that all sharks landed have their fins still attached to ease finning ban enforcement.
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. For years Canada lagged behind on adopting this best practice, finally requiring this of domestic fleets in 2018 and joining the majority of ICCAT countries who support the ‘fins attached’ proposal at ICCAT. Opposition from Japan, however, has prevented consensus to date.
Senior Coordinator, Marine Program,
Ecology Action Centre, Halifax, Canada
1 (902) 329-4668
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).