Arctic Shark Denied Protection

Date: September 24, 2021

Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization fails to agree Greenland Shark ban despite broad support

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. September 24, 2021. The Greenland shark – the species thought to have the longest lifespan of any vertebrate – has been denied new protections at this week’s (online) annual meeting of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO). The US had proposed a science-based ban on retaining Greenland sharks and was supported by the EU, UK, Canada, Russia, Norway, and France (with respect to Saint Pierre and Miquelon). In response to opposition from Iceland, however, the US withdrew its proposal. The NAFO Parties supporting Greenland shark protection pledged to reintroduce the proposal at the next annual meeting.

“We are deeply disappointed that NAFO failed to agree science-based safeguards for the incredibly long-lived and vulnerable Greenland shark,” said Sonja Fordham, president of Shark Advocates International, who testified in support of the proposed ban on behalf of the Shark League member groups. “We are committed to working with proponent governments to expand support and secure international Greenland shark protection in 2022. In the meantime, we encourage the US to follow the lead of the EU, UK, and Canada by establishing a Greenland shark ban for national waters.”

Scientists have estimated that Greenland sharks can live 400 years and don’t reproduce until about age 150, leaving populations exceptionally susceptible to overfishing. In 2018, the NAFO Scientific Council recommended a complete ban on retaining Greenland sharks, along with measures to collect information and minimize incidental mortality associated with “bycatch.” That year, the US and EU secured catch reporting requirements and a partial ban (for “directed” fishing in international waters).

“NAFO’s existing ban on high seas targeting of Greenland sharks is inadequate as it doesn’t prohibit retention of incidental catches and doesn’t cover the species’ vast Northwest Atlantic range,” said Shannon Arnold, marine policy coordinator for Ecology Action Centre. “We’re also concerned that most NAFO Parties are not fulfilling mandates to report on Greenland shark catches and bycatch mitigation  – information that is key to identifying hotspots and changing fishing practices to minimize harm.”

Greenland sharks are associated with the high latitudes of the North Atlantic and Arctic waters at depths up to 3000 meters. Growing to more than six meters (21 feet), they were heavily fished in the first half of the 20th century for liver oil. Today, Greenland sharks are taken primarily as incidental catch in a variety of fisheries and also targeted for meat by vessels from Greenland and Iceland.

“We congratulate the EU and US for continuing their efforts to protect this exceptionally vulnerable shark with a straight-forward, enforceable, science-based retention ban,” said Ali Hood, director of conservation for the Shark Trust. “We hope that this stance signals that the two Parties are considering dropping their opposition to the same measure currently being proposed by Canada and others to protect endangered shortfin mako sharks through the Atlantic tuna commission.”

Notes: 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. The Shark Trust is a UK charity working to safeguard the future of sharks through positive change. PADI AWARE Foundation is a publicly funded non-profit organization with a mission to drive local action for global ocean conservation. These groups, with support from the Shark Conservation Fund, formed the Shark League to advance science-based regional fishing policies.

NAFO Contracting Parties include Canada, Cuba, Denmark (in respect to the Faroe Islands and Greenland), the European Union, France (in respect to Saint Pierre et Miquelon), Iceland, Japan, Republic of Korea, Norway, Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the US.  NAFO Parties develop international management measures for Northwest Atlantic fish (except salmon, tunas/marlins, and sedentary species).

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the Greenland shark as a threatened species (in the Vulnerable category of the IUCN Red List).

NAFO’s next annual meeting will take place in September 2022, tentatively in Portugal.

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