U.S. Voices for Makos

Date: November 12, 2021

At its biannual meeting in mid-October, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Advisory Committee for the International Commission for Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) discussed agenda items for ICCAT’s 2021 annual meeting in November, including the continued overfishing of North Atlantic shortfin mako sharks. Representatives from multiple conservation organizations made the case for immediate mako protection. All of the testimony delivered in the public comment session came from conservationists urging a shortfin mako retention ban for the North Atlantic.

Here are some excerpts from the pleas:

Wildlife Conservation Society, Merry Camhi:

“I have been working in shark conservation for more than 25 years.  In virtually everything I’ve written or said, I’ve heralded the U.S. as a – if not the – global leader in domestic and international shark conservation, driven by NOAA’s strong commitment to science and sustainability in resource management.

But when it comes to North Atlantic shortfin makos, the U.S. is not leading. In fact, we’re more of an impediment for improving the status of this species. ICCAT scientists have been clear for many years about the dire straits that makos are now facing.  Although anecdotal, we see it in our own research trying to find and tag makos here in the New York Bight. And the shark anglers that we work and talk with are pretty clear about the decline in makos that they have also witnessed over the past few decades.

We are particularly troubled to see the U.S. insisting on an exception to the advised retention ban on shortfin mako. Given that studies have shown makos to have a post-release survivorship of about 77%, a retention ban is a good step to help jumpstart their recovery. Some makos will unfortunately be discarded dead under any scenario. Although this concern is understandable, we feel it is insufficient to justify rejection of the advised retention ban.

We are jeopardizing the future of one of the most magnificent, iconic, and vulnerable species on the planet.  I urge the U.S. government to end its opposition to the scientific advice and to stop pressing for exceptions that have no support from other countries. This could be our last chance.”

Defenders of Wildlife and Humane Society International, Alejandra Goyenechea:

“We are dissatisfied that the U.S. has opposed a North Atlantic shortfin mako shark retention ban in the past years and that the joint proposals presented during the 2019, 2020, and July 2021 ICCAT meetings did not reach consensus.

Biodiversity is under severe pressure globally and we should be following the advice of our scientists, not ignoring them and gambling with the future of keystone species that play critical roles in marine ecosystems, such as the shortfin mako. Given the biological vulnerability of the North Atlantic mako population and the dire state of their population numbers, the appropriate and measure to ensure that their populations are successfully rebuilt within a reasonable time frame is a strict ban on the retention of the species.

The adoption of a non-retention policy, which has been done with other shark species in the past, is the option that is most likely to lead to a favorable outcome for the stock.”

Earthjustice, Natalie Barefoot:

“We share concerns raised by others here today about the need for the United States to take action related to shortfin makos. Since 2017, a retention ban has been the cornerstone of ICCAT scientific advice in order to end overfishing of North Atlantic shortfin mako. ICCAT’s failure to take action has delayed the start of a recovery period, which is already looking at decades.

A retention ban is not the only step, but a key step to achieving the mortality reduction needed to turn the tide for shortfin makos. It shifts the incentives from fishing to avoidance and is uncomplicated to implement.

As a first step towards the United States’ commitment to scientific integrity and its commitment to immediately end overfishing and rebuild affected stocks, we ask the United States to support a complete ban on the retention of North Atlantic shortfin mako.”

Shark Advocates International, Sonja Fordham:

“My colleagues and I continue to be deeply troubled by U.S. insistence on exceptions that run counter to scientific advice that have seriously and repeatedly hindered progress toward an effective ICCAT mako measure to prevent North Atlantic population collapse and begin a very long recovery. The U.S. mako proposal has served as a major obstacle to ICCAT protection for three years, despite little to no support from other Parties, while proposals for the retention ban have been supported by at least 15 Parties. 

Alarm bells are ringing for all kinds of sharks, all around the world. The conservation community really needs the U.S. in the fight to turn things around – to set a good example by heeding scientific advice, to implement sound safeguards, and to help other countries to do the same. And, when you look around the world, there is no greater yet more readily solvable shark crisis than the one we’re facing with North Atlantic makos.

We urge the U.S. to help to prevent long-term, negative impacts for all stakeholders by joining Canada, Senegal, and their many cosponsors in working to secure an ICCAT shortfin mako retention ban, without exceptions.”

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