Scientific advice to ensure the sustainability of shark populations in Ocean waters

November 29, 2012

Together with the Basque R+D centre's researchers, the group of advisers is made up of researchers from the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO), the French Institute for Exploration of the Sea (IFREMER), the French Institute for Research for Development (IRD),and the Portuguese Institute for Fisheries and Sea Research (IPIMAR).This work comes within the 'European Community's Action Plan on Sharks' which has funding from the European Commission's Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, and is set to take 15 months.

Shark are caught with fishing gear designed for the purpose as well as through by-catch in a whole host of fisheries meant for other species. Shark fishing in the various Oceans has increased considerably in recent years, so in-depth knowledge about their situation is needed. To this end, in 2009 the European Commission set up the Community Plan of Action on Sharks, the "CPOA Shark", which mainly seeks to help the European Union's fishing fleet to engage in the sustainable fishing of shark in community as well as in international waters. Specifically, the project will be studying the impact on shark populations of fishing activity targeting tuna, from the industry right up to the smallest scale coastal activity. For this purpose, the focus will be on analysing the catches of the various shark species that are made in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans by the world tuna fleet, which are managed by the tuna Regional Fishery Management Organizations (RFMOs) (the ICCAT in the Atlantic, the IOTC in the Indian Ocean, and the IATTC and WCPFC in Eastern and Western Pacific, respectively).

The level of scientific knowledge on the shark populations on the high seas of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans is far from satisfactory. So the European plan is seeking to obtain expert technical advice in order to expand knowledge about shark fishing and the role played by the various shark species in the marine ecosystem. The advice of the AZTI-Tecnalia specialists and of the other centres involved will be contributing towards encouraging the fishing of this animal to be conducted in a more balanced way

The project, led by AZTI-Tecnalia, "has so far obtained information on the catches and effort, distributions of sizes, biology and ecology of the various species caught by different tuna fleets in the three Oceans. The aim is to characterise the fisheries as well as to address the lack of data and establish the priorities to be met for a future evaluation that will ensure the sustainable management of these populations", according to Hilario Murua, an AZTI-Tecnalia biologist and head of the scientific advisory committee of the 'Community Action Plan on Sharks'. "A second phase aims to put forward a framework for research into and monitoring of the fisheries, and thus ensure the sustainability of these vulnerable populations".

Considerable rise in catches

World shark catches rose from 600,000 tonnes in the early 1980s, to the estimated historical high of 900,000 tonnes in 2003, to fall to about 800,000 in 2007 and 750,000 in 2008.This trend is due to the great increase in the demand for shark products, mainly their fins, but also their flesh, skin and cartilage on the Asian markets, in particular.

Traditionally, European fleets have caught small shark off the coast and the scientific community has sufficient information on these catches. Yet the exploitation of shark on the high seas in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans has increased in recent years and has not been as accurately documented. This problem is compounded by the fact that shark is also fished by tuna vessels of different nationalities, mainly Asian fishing fleets that operate in these oceans. Despite the fact that these vessels have historically been involved in the fishing of tuna and swordfish, they are catching more and more ocean shark.

Shark are particularly vulnerable to overfishing, mainly due to their low reproductive capacity.This fact means that they are a species with a low capacity for recovery from overfishing and from other impacts caused by humans.

Elhuyar Fundazioa

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