Spain Protects Endangered Mako Sharks

Date: February 1, 2021

New Landings Ban by Top Shark Fishing Power Could Take a Big Bite Out of Overfishing

Press Release available in English and Spanish

London, February 1, 2021. Conservationists are heralding action by the Spanish government to protect one of the world’s most valuable and threatened shark species, the shortfin mako. A new moratorium on landing, sale, and trade applies to the particularly depleted North Atlantic population and has potential to put a significant dent in serious, long-term overfishing.

Spain ranks first in the world for shortfin mako catch and is responsible for about half of North Atlantic landings. Scientists have long recommended dramatic cutbacks in North Atlantic mako fishing, starting with a complete ban on retention. Until now, only Canada has heeded this advice.

Spain’s decision applies to 2021 catches from all Spanish vessels, regardless of whether they fish in domestic waters or the North Atlantic high seas. Sale of Spain’s 90t mako stockpile will not be allowed.

“We welcome Spain’s mako ban, albeit long overdue, as a significant advance in shark conservation,” said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust. “The policy is based on expert advice and aligns with myriad policy commitments. We urge the Spanish government to confirm, maintain, and extend this much needed protection, and encourage other mako fishing nations to follow suit.”

The European Commission has only recently proposed the first EU fishing quotas for North Atlantic shortfin makos. The 288t limit — a serious departure from the scientific advice — is yet to be approved by EU Fisheries Ministers.

The EU was more proactive with its support for the 2019 listing of mako sharks under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Countries around the world are now obligated to ensure that mako exports and landings introduced from the high seas come from legal, sustainable fisheries. A December 2020 opinion from the EU’s trade review panel concluded that EU Member States should cease all shortfin mako trade sourced from the North Atlantic. This action appears to be the catalyst for Spain’s ban.

International fishery restrictions for this population are the responsibility of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Proposals for an ICCAT North Atlantic shortfin mako ban have support from at least 15 countries but have been repeatedly blocked by the EU.

Spain’s mako ban is becoming public just as a major study in Nature warns that global oceanic shark abundance has plunged 71% since 1970, leaving three-quarters of species threatened with extinction.

Study co-author and Shark Advocates International President, Sonja Fordham, added

“If Spain — the world’s top mako fishing nation — holds firm and finally heeds scientific advice, we have a real chance to save this beleaguered shark population from irreparable collapse. Success depends on the immediate adoption of similar mako bans by other EU Member States and North Atlantic-wide protection through ICCAT.”

Media contact: Patricia Roy,, 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. Shark Advocates International is a project of The Ocean Foundation dedicated to securing science-based policies for sharks and rays. 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. These groups with support from the Shark Conservation Fund formed the Shark League to advance responsible regional shark and ray conservation policies.

The Shark League is urging other EU Member States, primarily Portugal, to ensure national positions are in line with expert advice to ban landing and trading of North Atlantic shortfin makos. These countries can encourage the European Commission to change course and promote mako retention bans for EU waters and ICCAT.

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.

The coalition is pressing other key mako-landing ICCAT Parties, particularly Morocco and the U.S., to support mako protection. ICCAT mako negotiations resume at a special meeting in July.

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. ICCAT scientists have reported serious North Atlantic shortfin mako declines and have recommended a ban on retention, in addition to other measures, since 2017. Population recovery will likely take ~50 years, even if mako fishing stops.

COVID-19 has further delayed mako management but has not stopped mako overfishing. Recent landings by EU vessels alone were triple the levels associated with population rebuilding.

Spain reported 866t of North Atlantic shortfin mako landings for 2019. Spain set its first North Atlantic shortfin mako catch limit in 2020 at 350t; actual landings amounted to a substantial overage.

Portugal and Morocco rank 3rd and 2nd for 2019 North Atlantic shortfin mako landings, reporting 289t and 501t, respectively.

The shortfin mako is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. ICCAT scientists last assessed the status of Atlantic shortfin mako sharks in 2019.

UK CITES authorities have also issued a negative opinion with respect to the sustainability of North Atlantic shortfin mako trade.

This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)

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