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Small Steps for Shark and Skate Conservation Taken at NAFO

Sep. 29/11

Northwest Atlantic fishing countries reduce skate quotas, improve shark catch reporting slightly

Although we are pleased that the NAFO skate quota will no longer be twice as high as scientists advise, it is still deeply disappointing

Sonja Fordham, President, Shark Advocates International

Conservation efforts fell short at last week’s annual meeting of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) as fishing powers agreed to cut international quotas for threatened skates by just half the amount advised by scientists, and to require reporting of incidental shark catches by broad category rather than by species. This despite recommendations by Project AWARE Foundation, Shark Advocates International and other nonprofit groups urging Canada, EU, and the US to make sound management decisions for skates and sharks.

Following late-night negotiations, NAFO Parties today formally adopted an agreement to reduce the 2012 quota for thorny skate from 12,000 tons (t) to 8,500 t, just halfway toward the quota advised by scientists (5,000t). Earlier in the week, Canada had suggested phasing in the advised catch reduction over two years (8,500t in 2012) while the EU proposed adopting the scientific advice right away (2012), but in a free-for-all manner that favored European fishermen. The US had proposed a 5,000t quota for 2012 through across-the-board allocation reductions. Parties pledged to reconsider scientific advice for skates next year.

“Although we are pleased that the NAFO skate quota will no longer be twice as high as scientists advise, it is still deeply disappointing to witness another year of the European Union and Canada putting the interests of their fishermen above their conservation commitments and the long-term health of exceptionally vulnerable populations,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International.

Northwest Atlantic skates are fished mainly by vessels from Spain, Portugal, Canada, and Russia.  Thorny skates make up the vast majority (~95%) of this mixed skate species catch, more than half of which is taken by Spanish fishing vessels. Thorny skates are classified as Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). NAFO scientists have long warned that thorny skates have very low reproductive capacity (due to slow growth and few offspring) and that their population is at a low level; they have been advising NAFO Parties to roughly halve thorny skate catches since 2008.

The US also proposed to improve reporting of sharks taken incidentally in NAFO trawl fisheries by requiring fishermen to record such catches by species. Because of objections from Japan, Parties agreed to require shark catches be identified simply as “dogfish” or “large sharks” while still encouraging more detailed reports.

“We thank the US for remaining steadfast in the uphill battle for sound shark and skate conservation measures at NAFO and other international fisheries bodies,” added Fordham.

NAFO Contracting Parties include Canada, Cuba, Denmark (in respect to the Faroe Islands & Greenland), Estonia, the EU, France (in respect to Saint Pierre et Miquelon), Iceland, Japan, Republic of Korea, Norway, Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the US.