Shark League Celebrates Conservation Progress in the Atlantic Despite Cautionary Concerns – The Shark League, a coalition of organizations dedicated to shark and ray conservation, is celebrating progress in safeguarding these species in the Atlantic following the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) in Cairo, Egypt. Despite acknowledging positive steps, the organizations caution that the newly adopted measures are not cautious enough to adequately protect these inherently vulnerable species. The ICCAT member parties agreed to provisional protections for rays and devil rays, as well as basking sharks. Additionally, there are reductions in quotas for heavily fished blue sharks, and improvements in processes to ensure nations adhere to ICCAT standards for fishing and data reporting.
The United Kingdom proposed a ban on the retention of rays and devil rays (mobula rays) and advocated for their safe release by 2025. This proposal garnered support from Egypt, the European Union (EU), Morocco, Brazil, Gabon, Belize, and Canada. However, Japan weakened the proposal, and its implementation is contingent on unanimous agreement after a review by ICCAT scientists in 2024. Similar safeguards for basking sharks were proposed by the EU and sponsored by the UK, Morocco, Brazil, Belize, and Canada, but they too are subject to additional review and consensus the following year, at Japan’s insistence.
Sonja Fordham, president of Shark Advocates International, expressed appreciation for countries addressing the gaps in protections for threatened Atlantic rays and sharks in international waters. She expressed confidence that ICCAT scientists would promptly confirm the exceptional vulnerability of these animals, paving the way for more robust protections.
Balancing Acts: Navigating Controversial Catch Limits for Blue Sharks in the Atlantic and the Role of International Cooperation in Conservation
Among the recent agreed-upon measures are contentious reductions in catch limits for heavily fished blue sharks in response to a new population assessment indicating unsustainable catch levels. The UK proposed significant cuts to North Atlantic quotas in line with a precautionary approach. However, the EU, which catches more blue sharks than all other ICCAT parties combined, insisted on higher and riskier quotas, disregarding the fishing activities of other nations and overall discards. The compromise agreement reduces the North Atlantic catch limit by 23%, but the short-term likelihood of maintaining safe fishing levels is precarious. The EU was the sole party proposing a reduction in catch limits for blue sharks in the South Atlantic but did not adequately consider cumulative catches by quota-less countries and resisted calls to include developing countries. This compromise only reduces the overall catch limit by 4%, leaving the population at risk of ongoing overexploitation but introduces quotas among parties for the first time.
Ali Hood, director of conservation at Shark Trust, thanked the UK for its commitment to maximizing the conservation impact of compromise measures for blue sharks. However, he expressed frustration with the EU’s continued dominance in fisheries and its prioritization over the need to promote equity and minimize risks for already precarious shark populations.
The Shark League’s new analysis of ICCAT and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) performance highlights the ICCAT parties’ implementation of shark conservation obligations. All sharks covered by ICCAT measures are listed in CITES Appendix II, requiring countries to allow exports, including high-seas catches, based on Non-Detriment Findings demonstrating legal and sustainable sources. Particularly relevant to ICCAT is the 2022 CITES listing for blue sharks, effective in a few days (November 25).
The ICCAT Compliance Committee examined adherence to ICCAT shark measures this year by thoroughly reviewing reports from parties and non-governmental organizations. Concerns raised by the United States, Canada, and Japan echoed those in the Shark League’s report. Mexico, Namibia, Costa Rica, Morocco, Guatemala, and Ivory Coast were among the countries formally asked to explain their compliance shortcomings for sharks. The Committee also agreed to establish a process for evaluating exemptions to certain shark limits, aligning with Shark League recommendations.
Shannon Arnold, Associate Director of the Marine Program at Ecology Action Centre, emphasized the importance of ensuring nations fully comply with ICCAT measures for their effectiveness. She welcomed the integration of the Shark League’s analysis of ICCAT shark conservation implementation into the Compliance Committee’s work, underscoring the significance of NGO participation not only in holding governments accountable but also in contributing to more practical and effective processes.
Shark League Celebrates Conservation Progress in the Atlantic Despite Cautionary Concerns