Today in Morocco the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) wrapped up. Contrary to its name, the ICCAT oversees more than just tuna, regulating a variety of highly migratory fish including several kinds of shark in the Atlantic and surrounding seas.
The takeaway from this year's ICCAT meeting was two-fold: for the beleaguered bluefin tuna which has been subject to extremely high fishing pressure in recent decades ICCAT acted prudently, leaving 2013 catch limits largely the same, even as tuna stocks showed signs of recovery. It was a welcome development from an organization that has sometimes put the interests of the fishing industry ahead of those of the fish.
But for vulnerable and largely unregulated species of shark like the porbeagle and shortfin Mako, ICCAT sat on its hands, rejecting measures that would set limits on mako and failing to adopt science-based proposals to protect endangered porbeagles.
In the New York Times Green blog, Oceana Europe fisheries campaign manager Maria Jose Cornax called the inaction on sharks “a baffling, contradictory approach".
"ICCAT must remove its blinders and look beyond this one fish [bluefin tuna] to the many other stocks for which it is responsible,” she said.
Shark expert and Oceana Europe marine wildlife scientist Dr. Allison Perry condemned the abandonment of sharks at this year’s meeting.
“ICCAT has failed to assume their responsibility for managing shark fisheries in the Atlantic. Allowing stocks to become seriously depleted, and then prohibiting their capture does not qualify as responsible management. Sharks represent more than 15% of all reported catches in ICCAT, yet most sharks caught in ICCAT fisheries remain completely unmanaged.”
Three-quarters of the highly migratory sharks that are caught in the Atlantic are classified as threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but less than 1 percent are protected from overfishing by the organization that’s charged with that task.
That sad statistic is according to a new report we released today coinciding with the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Although ICCAT is in charge of shark conservation in the Atlantic’s international waters, Oceana’s new report shows that the organization is not doing enough.
Oceana scientists are present at the ICCAT meeting this week, and they are calling on the 48 countries that fish in the Atlantic to adopt greater measures to protect these vulnerable sharks from going extinct.
Some sharks, like tunas, travel long distances across the oceans, so their populations can’t be effectively managed by any one country. Most shark species in the Atlantic are vulnerable to overfishing because of their exceptionally low reproductive rates. Currently, ICCAT only has protections in place for a few species including hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks, although many other sharks are threatened with extinction, including porbeagle, silky, shortfin mako and blue sharks.
And as you know, sharks keep the ocean ecosystem in balance. When sharks disappear, the implications for the entire ocean food chain are dire. Here’s hoping that ICCAT takes further action this time around to protect the Atlantic’s top predators.
Today, the EU has announced important measures that will protect porbeagle sharks, which are threatened by overfishing.
The new laws will protect porbeagles throughout EU waters, where previous regulations only applied in certain areas. Today’s measures make all fishing for porbeagles illegal and requires that any sharks caught accidentally be released immediately.
Porbeagles are heavily fished for their fins and meat, and because they take a long time to reproduce, they recover from overfishing extremely slowly. Estimates suggest that porbeagle populations in the Mediterranean have declined by 99% since the 1950s.
While this is great news, there is still more to be done to protect vulnerable porbeagles. “The protection of porbeagles by the EU represents an important step for the conservation of this species. However, given its highly migratory nature, if porbeagles are to recover, similar actions must follow at the international level,” said Dr. Allison Perry, wildlife marine scientist with Oceana.
We’re particularly excited about the timing of this measure because it comes right before this month’s meeting of ICCAT, an international commission with the authority to enact shark protections across the Atlantic Ocean.
We want the U.S. to call for international protections for porbeagles and other vulnerable shark species. You can help us by speaking up for sharks!
It’s that time of year when “best of” lists abound, so what better reason to sing the ocean’s greatest hits of 2010?
Raise your eggnog glasses high for these ocean victories that we helped accomplish this year, with your generous support and enthusiasm:
- The Obama Administration reinstated a ban on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coast -- and that was after months of pressure by Oceana and more than 100,000 (!) of you said it was time to Stop the Drill.
- After pressure from Oceana and our allies, the Chilean government halted the construction of a coal-fired thermoelectric plant near Punta de Choros, a marine reserve home to Humboldt penguins, bottlenose dolphins, and blue whales.
- Two big bottom trawling victories: the U.S. banned bottom trawling in a 23,000 square mile area off the Southeast Atlantic coast, home to the largest area of pristine area of cold-water corals in the world. And in Belize, we helped pass a ban on all trawling in the country’s waters.
As ICCAT continues this week in Paris, we have a new report out today that ought to get the delegates’ attention. Our report estimates that more than 1.3 million highly migratory sharks were caught in the Atlantic Ocean during 2008 -- and without international fisheries management.
Of the 21 sharks species reported to be caught in ICCAT waters in 2008, three quarters are classified as threatened with extinction in parts of the Atlantic Ocean, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Yet sharks remain all but unmanaged by ICCAT, with the exception of a weak finning ban and a prohibition on retaining bigeye thresher sharks.
And what’s more, Oceana scientists believe that 1.3 million sharks is a gross underestimate. In 2008, 11 out of the 48 countries that participate in ICCAT did not report any shark catches and current shark catch data in ICCAT is generally acknowledged to be inadequate at best. In fact, scientific estimates based on Hong Kong shark fin trade data have shown that real shark catches in the Atlantic may be more than three times higher than what is reported to ICCAT.
Yesterday the 17th Special Meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) began in Paris, France. Oceana is in Paris with this simple message for the ICCAT delegates: Restore depleted bluefin tuna and shark populations.
Oceana’s chief scientist and head-of-delegation Dr. Michael Hirshfield had this to say as the meeting commenced:
“We can not continue to let the demand for sharks and bluefin tuna drive these populations toward extinction. Immediate and proper international management is needed now or we will empty the oceans of these top predators and vastly change the oceans as we know them today… Oceana hopes the next ten days are not wasted playing ‘politics.’ The science is clear and it is time to get to work.”
And you can help us put the pressure on -- tell the US and EU delegates at ICCAT to increase protections for sharks and bluefin tuna!
Starting next week, the 17th Special Meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) will meet in Paris, France. It’s another year, and another chance for the international body to take greater action to prevent the extinction of bluefin tuna, and to better protect sharks, swordfish and sea turtles.
We will have a team of scientists in Paris, and they will be calling on ICCAT to do the following:
* Suspend the bluefin tuna fishery until a system is implemented that follows the scientific advice on catch levels, stops illegal fishing and protects bluefin tuna spawning areas in the Gulf of Mexico and Mediterranean.
If you thought bluefin tuna were just another faceless fish, you thought wrong. Not only are they some of the fastest and most impressive predators in the ocean, they are also in serious trouble from overfishing.
In a few weeks, the world will have a chance to change bluefin’s fate, and we are asking you all to spread the word – by putting your face on this threatened fish. How, you ask? Well, our colleagues in Europe just launched a website, www.stoptunablues.org, where you can do just that.
From November 17-27th, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) will meet in Paris. ICCAT is an international body responsible for the conservation and management of bluefin, and Oceana will be in Paris to pressure the Commission to do more to protect bluefin.
Bluefin may not be as cuddly as panda bears, but you are – so help us save bluefin by offering your (incredibly attractive) likeness to the cause, and then spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, and any other way you want!
This week in ocean news,
...the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas approved next year's Atlantic tuna quotas, disappointing conservationists who say that only a complete closure of the fishery will allow the great fish to avoid collapse.
...scientists recommended a lower pollock quota this year in the North Pacific fishery, the largest in the U.S., as the population still struggles to rebound. Spawning levels are at their lowest in 30 years.
...in Japan, scientists photographed a juvenile coelacanth for the first time. Long thought to be extinct, these ancient creatures were rediscovered in the early 20th century and little is known about them.
...the U.S. Senate's Commerce, Science and Transporation Committee passed the Shark Conservation Act of 2009, which would require all sharks be landed whole in the U.S. and eliminate loopholes that allowed the transfer of fins at sea in order to get around shark finning laws. The vote brought the Act one major step closer to becoming law.
To the surprise of no one, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) failed again this year to adequately protect Atlantic bluefin tuna. Last week, ICCAT met in Brazil to set the 2010 quotas for the critically endangered bluefin tuna, and several of Oceana's scientists and campaigners were present.