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Atlantic Tuna Commission Fails Sharks Again

Project AWARE News

ICCAT leaves high seas mako fishing unregulated, porbeagles unprotected, and finning ban weak.

Fishing nations at the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) failed to reach consensus on several shark conservation proposals, including European Union (EU) bids to establish catch limits for shortfin makos and to prohibit retention of porbeagles.  A multi-national effort to strengthen the ICCAT ban on shark finning (slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea) was also defeated, yet gained support from a considerable number of ICCAT member countries during the meeting.

“Despite our deep disappointment over the final outcome for sharks at this meeting, we are encouraged by the growing number of countries taking a stand for international conservation of these exceptionally vulnerable species,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International.  “In particular, we welcome support for stronger finning bans from Senegal and Gabon, and are hopeful that these voices signal increasing engagement from African nations in the global battle against overfishing and waste of sharks.”

The U.S., Belize, and Brazil were unsuccessful in their fifth attempt to strengthen the ICCAT finning ban by replacing the current fin-to-carcass weight ratio limit with a prohibition on removing fins at sea, due to strong opposition from Japan, China, and Korea. The move toward the more reliable “fins-attached” policy, however, gained co-sponsorship this year from the EU, Egypt, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Senegal, and the Overseas Territories of the United Kingdom.  

“We continue to be encouraged by the expanding leadership toward stronger finning bans from countries in Latin America,” said Alejandra Goyenechea, International Counsel for Defenders of Wildlife. “Guatemala, Mexico, and Panama joining Brazil and Belize in co-sponsoring the fins-attached proposal demonstrates significant regional commitment and growing international momentum for this best practice.”

An EU proposal to establish catch limits for heavily fished, highly vulnerable shortfin mako sharks received general support from the U.S., but failed due to strong opposition from Japan, China, and Korea.  ICCAT scientists have recommended measures to ensure shortfin mako fishing does not increase, yet makos are not subject to quotas under ICCAT or through the main Atlantic mako fishing nations of Spain and Portugal.

“We are grateful for the EU’s increasing efforts to secure shark conservation measures at ICCAT, and yet remind officials that there is much work to do for sharks in Europe,” said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for Shark Trust. “We encourage the European Commission to boost its case for ICCAT safeguards for sharks by establishing EU limits on oceanic sharks, especially makos, and by demonstrating for Asian delegations that the fins-attached method is feasible for large-scale, high-seas freezer fleets, using examples from Spain.”

For the fourth year in a row, Canada ensured the defeat of an EU proposal to protect porbeagle sharks.


Shark Advocates International is a project of The Ocean Foundation working to secure science-based policies for sharks and rays.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.

The Shark Trust is the UK charity working to advance the worldwide conservation of sharks through science, education, influence and action.

These groups, in concert with World Wildlife Fund, TRAFFIC, Greenpeace, Humane Society International, Project AWARE, issued this position statement on sharks for the ICCAT meeting.

Shark fins are used in a celebratory soup prized in Asia.  High demand for fins drives many shark fisheries and provides incentive for finning. Many shark species, particularly porbeagles and shortfin makos, are also sought for their meat. 

Scientists have determined that shortfin mako and porbeagle sharks are exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing from ICCAT fisheries.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies porbeagle and shortfin mako sharks as Vulnerable on a global scale; porbeagle sharks are categorized as Endangered in the Northwest Atlantic and Critically Endangered in the Northeast Atlantic.

ICCAT is responsible for the conservation of tunas and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas.  ICCAT has 47 Contracting Parties, including the European Union.

ICCAT adopted protections for bigeye thresher sharks in 2009, oceanic whitetip and hammerhead sharks in 2010, and silky sharks in 2011.

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