A quarter of the world’s sharks and rays are threatened with extinction according to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, with ray species found to be at a higher risk than sharks. The findings are part of the first ever global analysis of these species carried out by the IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG).
The study, which comes at the start of the year marking the 50th anniversary of The IUCN Red List, was published today in the journal eLIFE. It includes the analysis of the conservation status of 1,041 shark, ray and closely related chimaera species.
According to the findings, sharks, rays and chimaeras are at a substantially higher risk than most other groups of animals and have the lowest percentage of species considered safe – with only 23% categorized as Least Concern.
“Our analysis shows that sharks and their relatives are facing an alarmingly elevated risk of extinction,” says Dr Nick Dulvy, IUCN SSG Co-Chair and Canada Research Chair at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. “In greatest peril are the largest species of rays and sharks, especially those living in shallow water that is accessible to fisheries.”
Overfishing is the main threat to the species, according to the paper. Reported catches of sharks, rays and chimaeras peaked in 2003 and have been dominated by rays for the last 40 years. Actual catches are likely to be grossly under-reported.
Unintentionally caught sharks and rays account for much of the catch, yet developing markets and depleting fishery targets have made this “bycatch” increasingly welcome. Intentional killing of sharks and rays due to the perceived risk that they pose to people, fishing gear or target species is contributing to the threatened status of at least 12 species.
“Sharks, rays and chimaeras tend to grow slowly and produce few young, which leaves them particularly vulnerable to overfishing,” says Sonja Fordham, IUCN SSG Deputy Chair and president of the Washington, DC-based Shark Advocates International, a project of The Ocean Foundation. “Significant policy strides have been made over the last two decades but effective conservation requires a dramatic acceleration in pace as well as an expansion of scope to include all shapes and sizes of these exceptional species. Our analysis clearly demonstrates that the need for such action is urgent.”
Project AWARE is an International Non-government Organization member of IUCN, the world’s oldest and largest global environmental network. IUCN, home of the Red List of Threatened Species, is a democratic membership union with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists in more than 160 countries. The study is the result of a collaboration of 302 experts from 64 countries.
Visit the IUCN website for the full press release, to view the study, fact sheets and other related materials.