Type to search

Commercial Fishing



New shark conservation report launched at Atlantic tuna meeting targets troublesome gaps. Analysis details problems and recommends remedies for aligning nations’ commitments and actions.

A new Shark League gap analysis highlights where shark fishing and trading nations are falling short after decades of conservation commitments made through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES, a global wildlife treaty) and the International Commission for Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT, a regional fishery management organisation). The authors review the performance of ICCAT’s 52 Parties and 5 Co-operators (CPCs) with respect to obligations for Atlantic shark and ray species listed under CITES between 2002 and 2020; identify key implementation and policy gaps; and recommend priority improvements at national and International levels.

Several actions recommended in the Shark League analysis will be considered by ICCAT in the coming days:

  • strengthening the shark finning ban by banning at-sea fin removal (a multi-national effort led by the US);
  • reducing and allocating blue shark quotas based on new scientific advice; and
  • protecting mobula rays and whale sharks (proposed by the UK and EU, respectively).

Sharks and rays are threatened mainly by overfishing, with international trade as a key driver. The success of international conservation agreements depends on proper implementation at the national level. Because sharks and rays are considered both commodities and wildlife, governments’ approaches toward meeting obligations under fisheries and environment treaties are often misaligned. The analysis explores problematic gaps in the national implementation of CITES and ICCAT commitments stemming from this divide, as well as serious inadequacies in countries’ basic reporting of vital catch and trade statistics for shark and ray species.

“ICCAT and CITES have both advanced shark and ray conservation, and both bodies face major implementation challenges stemming from inadequate resources and insufficient political will,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International. “We document myriad gaps that hinder effective conservation and urgently warrant priority attention from multiple government agencies and stakeholders. Narrowing the divides highlighted in our report is essential to ensuring a brighter outlook for sharks and rays in the Atlantic and beyond.”

The European Union is by far the top ICCAT CPC for shark and ray fishing, with landings that exceed those reported by all other ICCAT CPCs combined. Countries with significant discrepancies between the shark and ray landings they report to ICCAT versus the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) include the People’s Republic of China, Spain, Portugal, and Liberia. Despite ICCAT measures that ban retention of multiple shark species, very few ICCAT CPCs are meeting their requirements to report discarding them. Most ICCAT CPCs don’t report any shark discards at all; this includes five countries that rank in the top ten for reported shark landings (Namibia, Morocco, Ghana, Senegal, and Belize). Only 12 ICCAT CPCs report plans to increase onboard monitoring of long-liner fleets to the agreed 10%.

“Despite a rising profile at CITES, sharks and rays are less valuable than traditional food fish and remain a relatively low priority for fisheries bodies,” said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust. “We must balance the attention given to achieving conservation agreements with the fulfilment of commitments, particularly limits on fishing and trade. Recently, it’s been encouraging to see the 2019 CITES obligations for severely depleted Atlantic shortfin mako sharks at last result in overdue cutbacks in fishing by the world leader in mako catch – the EU – and we’re advocating for similar policy integration to help achieve necessary reductions in blue shark quotas at ICCAT this month.”

The report finds that most countries are not yet reporting oceanic shark landings from the high seas as “Introduction from the Sea” to CITES, as required. Production, quality, and availability of Atlantic shark and ray “Non-Detriment Findings” (NDFs, required for export of CITES Appendix II listed species) are also lacking, with 13 ICCAT CPCs reporting commercial trade in listed sharks without public NDFs. Only four ICCAT CPCs have publicized negative NDFs for sharks.

“Lack of data on shark and ray exploitation is a primary and persistent hurdle to population assessment, compliance monitoring, and conservation, with governments’ required reports too often incomplete, late, inconsistent, or non-existent,” said Shannon Arnold, Associate Director for the Ecology Action Centre. “Our analysis includes a deep dive into ICCAT members’ 2022 Shark Check Sheets, initiated by the ICCAT Compliance Committee to elicit domestic implementation information. They clearly show that many CPCs still lack national regulations to implement ICCAT shark measures. We’re holding out hope that the increasing scrutiny will result in wide-ranging benefits before it’s too late.”

The analysis pays special attention to gaps that threaten particularly vulnerable sharks and rays, such as:

  • Myriad inconsistencies in Mexico’s reporting on shark catch, trade, and domestic regulations;
  • A lack of sourcing and landings information for much of Senegal’s reported shark fin exports;
  • Gaping exceptions and inconsistent reporting associated with ICCAT bans on threatened* hammerhead and silky sharks, particularly with respect to Mexico, Ghana, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, and Costa Rica;
  • Post-protection exploitation of Critically Endangered* oceanic whitetip sharks by Mexico, Brazil, and Senegal, according to ICCAT, FAO, and CITES records (respectively);
  • Increased landings of exceptionally vulnerable, as-of-yet unprotected, Endangered* manta and devil rays by Venezuela and under-reporting of catch across the central Atlantic;
  • The urgent need for ICCAT CPCs to follow through on commitments to reduce bycatch of Endangered* North Atlantic shortfin makos and report discards of the species (particularly with respect to Morocco);
  • A decade of inconsistent reporting of unregulated, Endangered* longfin mako landings, particularly by Portugal, along with a dearth of discard data for the species (reported only by the United States);
  • The genus-level reporting that hinders compliance monitoring for ICCAT’s bigeye thresher ban as well as assessment of unprotected common thresher

The report concludes with specific recommendations for improving shark and ray conservation through better integration of fisheries and environmental agency activities. Governments are urged to focus on immediate fulfilment of various treaty obligations and to be more timely, accurate, and transparent in reporting of catches and trade. Assistance for low-capacity countries should be requested and facilitated as a matter of priority.

CITES-specific needs include a shift toward reporting exports by region/ocean/population; robust, public NDFs tied to concrete fishing limits; and consideration of listing heavily traded, less iconic species like skates and dogfishes. ICCAT-specific needs include elimination of exceptions to retention bans for hammerhead, silky, and bigeye thresher sharks; augmentation and long-term extension of the North Atlantic shortfin mako ban; new safeguards for unprotected species; and 100% observer coverage for large-scale long-liners