EU and US Block Vital Protections for Endangered Mako Sharks

Date: December 14, 2020

Available in French and Spanish.

North Atlantic ban championed by Canada, Senegal, and the UK thwarted in virtual ICCAT meeting

London, UK. December 14th, 2020. Conservationists are outraged that the European Union and the United States – despite long promoting science-based shark conservation – once again served as the main obstacles to urgently needed protections for mako sharks through annual negotiations of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Canada, Senegal, and – in their first official act as an independent ICCAT Party — the United Kingdom proposed a ban on retention of seriously overfished North Atlantic shortfin makos, as ICCAT scientists have long advised. The proposal earned support from Taiwan and Gabon. The EU and US, however, refused to give up on exceptions for continuing to land the endangered species. As a result, this year’s mako negotiations end with no new conservation measures. The next opportunity for Atlantic-wide action is July 2021 through a special intersessional meeting. ICCAT scientists estimate this population could take five decades to recover, even if fishing were to stop immediately. Lack of consensus allows unsustainable fishing on this shared population to continue.

“North Atlantic mako depletion remains among the world’s most pressing shark conservation crises, yet the EU and US put short-term fishing interests above all else and ruined a golden opportunity for agreeing a clear and simple remedy,” said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust. “The repeated obstruction of vital, science-based protections allows top mako fishing countries – Spain, Morocco, and Portugal — to continue to fish these endangered sharks, essentially without limit, and drive valuable populations toward collapse.”

Shortfin makos are particularly valuable sharks, sought for meat, fins, and sport. Slow growth makes them exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing. Makos are fished by many nations around the globe yet not subject to international fishing quotas. The EU, Morocco, Canada, US, and Senegal (in that order) were the highest ranking ICCAT Parties for North Atlantic shortfin mako landings in 2019. Spain is responsible for more mako landings than any other country in the world. In April 2020, Canada became the only North Atlantic country to unilaterally ban shortfin mako retention, as scientists advise.

“It has been heartbreaking to watch the US devolve from a global shark conservation leader to a primary obstacle to international, science-based protections for endangered makos,” said Ian Campbell, Associate Director of Policy and Campaigns for Project AWARE. “On behalf of tens of thousands of American divers, we will be urging the incoming Biden-Harris administration to restore US commitment to science and the precautionary approach, especially when it comes to exceptionally vulnerable and irreplaceable marine life like sharks.”

Scientists warn that South Atlantic shortfin makos are on a similar path. The Canadian proposal included a science-based catch limit for this population. The opportunity for international agreement to heed this advice is also postponed until July 2021.

“The Shark League is intently focused on making the next round of ICCAT mako negotiations in July the one that finally results in the protections that makos and their ecosystem so urgently need,” said Shannon Arnold, Marine Program Coordinator for Ecology Action Centre. “Canada, Senegal, and the UK are today’s emerging shark champions. We thank Taiwan and Gabon for following their lead and urge all ICCAT Parties to do the same, before it’s too late.”

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

Notes to Editors: 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. Project AWARE is a global movement for ocean protection powered by a community of adventurers. Shark Advocates International is a project of The Ocean Foundation dedicated to securing science-based policies for sharks and rays. These groups, with support from the Shark Conservation Fund, formed the Shark League of the Atlantic and Mediterranean to advance responsible regional shark and ray conservation policies.

ICCAT is responsible for the conservation of tunas and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas. ICCAT has 53 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 2020 ICCAT negotiations were conducted by email due to COVID-19.

At last year’s in-person meeting, Senegal, Canada, the Gambia, Gabon, Panama, Liberia, Guatemala, Angola, El Salvador, and Egypt jointly proposed the science-based North Atlantic mako ban and were supported on the floor by Norway, Guinea Bissau, Uruguay, Japan, China, and Taiwan.

Countries reporting 2019 catches of North Atlantic makos (Isurus oxyrinchus) include (in order of magnitude): EU (Spain and Portugal), Morocco, Canada, US, Senegal, Venezuela, Japan, Korea, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago. EU fishing vessels are responsible for 63% of reported catches of North Atlantic shortfin makos in 2019.

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.  Conservationists have raised concern over 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.

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.

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