Over 50 countries have made renewed efforts to tackle over-fishing and other threats to migratory shark species as part of a new UN-backed conservation plan.
Government representatives from 50 countries have gathered in Bonn, Germany, for the first meeting of signatories to the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks concluded under the UN Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) participants adopted a new conservation plan, which aims to catalyze regional initiatives to reduce threats to migratory sharks. Signatory states also agreed to involve fishing industry representatives, NGOs, and scientists in implementing the conservation plan.
Under the agreement, countries agreed to exchange information among government bodies, scientific institutions, international organizations and NGOs. Improved monitoring and data collection will help assess the structure, trends and distribution of shark populations necessary to design targeted conservation measures.
The MoU on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks (2010) is the first global instrument dedicated to migratory sharks and complements a suite of existing wildlife and fisheries agreements.
Since migratory sharks cross the high seas and national waters of different states, closer collaboration between countries is needed to tackle over-fishing and other threats.
"The Convention on Migratory Species welcomes the continued cooperation among governments and partners and challenges participants to take meaningful actions to promote shark conservation within their waters and on the high seas," said CMS Acting Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema.
Sharks are under serious threat around the globe. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified 17 percent of more than 1000 assessed species as threatened, according its 'Red List' criteria. Sharks are caught intentionally or as accidental "by-catch" in virtually all types of fisheries worldwide.
The new conservation plan will encourage fisheries-related research on incidental and direct shark catches with the aim to ensure that all shark catch is sustainable.
In particular, governments will work with fishing industries, regional fisheries management organizations, scientists and NGOs to avoid the capture of two of the largest sharks in the world: the basking shark and great white shark. These shark species are considered endangered migratory species and are listed in Appendix I of CMS.
Other species targeted by the conservation plan include mako, spiny dogfish, porbeagle, basking, white, and whale sharks
Countries also stressed that the accidental capture of sharks in fishing gear needs to be more closely regulated. Participants at the Bonn meeting agreed to encourage catch quotas to ensure sustainable use of targeted sharks and stricter limits on endangered shark species. No international fishing quotas have been established to date for the short and long fin mako sharks, which traverse ocean basins, are fished by multiple countries, and are covered by the CMS agreement.
The conservation plan also suggests that sharks should be landed with their fins still attached in order to prevent shark "finning" (slicing off a shark's fins and discarding the body at sea). The high value of fins has created an economic incentive for shark finning , but to date, more than 60 fishing nations, including the 27 Member States of the European Union (EU), have banned the practice.
However, in the EU and some other countries, processing sharks on board vessels is still allowed in some cases. This means that shark fins can be removed from carcasses and stored separately under a fin-to-carcass weight limit that can be difficult to properly enforce. In 2011, the European Commission proposed putting an end to these permits and requiring that sharks be landed with their fins attached. On 19 March 2012, the Council of the European Union endorsed the Commission's approach. The proposal is currently being debated by the European Parliament.
It is estimated that 26 to 73 million sharks are killed every year to support the global shark fin market. Shark fins, used in the traditional Asian dish shark fin soup, are among the world's most valuable fishery products. The price of shark fins reached more than US$ 700 per kilo in 2011, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Sharks are also sought for meat and liver oil and, increasingly, their cartilage skeletons are also marketed.
Most sharks are long-living species that grow slowly, mature late, and produce few young. These biological factors make sharks particularly vulnerable to overfishing and mean that populations can be slow to recover once depleted.
Representatives from other UN bodies such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as well as INTERPOL also participated at the meeting of signatories, in addition to leading NGO representatives and shark fisheries experts.
CMS is working with Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) to promote the conservation and sustainable use of sharks.