Does the future of sharks depend on sustainable fishing?

As the term ‘shark fishing’ strikes many readers essentially as a demonic force, the authors remind us that about 4,406 ton of fin (8.7% of total global trade of fin) is sourced from sustainably harvested shark fisheries.

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The unsustainable exploitation, both target, and bycatch, of elasmobranch fauna from our ocean has pushed about one-fourth of chondrichthyans to the brink of extinction. In the emerging crisis, several approaches ranging from the ban on fishing to trading have been employed, however, a new correspondence from Colin A. Simpfendorfer and Nicholas K. Dulvy suggests that sustainable fishing of sharks can be the feasible solution.

As the term ‘shark fishing’ strikes many readers essentially as a demonic force, the authors remind us that about 4,406 ton of fin (8.7% of total global trade of fin) is sourced from sustainably harvested sharks. Here, in the paper, sustainable fisheries denotes as the fishing when the current biomass or fishing mortality helps in sustaining a healthy population of the species in question. However, to categorize a (shark) fishing both sustainable and well-managed, a comprehensive science-based management plan, including species-specific catch limits based on its biology, population structure and threats to extinction, needs to be implemented.

The authors used several of methods i.e. FAO statistics (modified), IUCN Red List criteria and the productivity rate of harvested species to understand to what extent the shark fisheries around the world is sustainably managed. The analysis not only suggests that the sustainable management of shark fisheries can be sustained in long run but also produces a fantastic picture of how the shark fisheries around our ocean are either sustainable or managed or both.

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Figure 1. Location and magnitude of sustainable shark, ray and Chimaera catch. Location of sustainable and managed (green circles) and sustainable but not managed (yellow circles) shark, ray and chimera populations. (Source: Simpfendorfer & Dulvy, 2017)

Nonetheless, it (Figure 1) only represents the shark fisheries scenario employed by most of the developed countries, not the developing countries where the effort and attention are more urgent. Usually, countries surrounding the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem (i.e. Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand) top the list across the world in terms of lacking a sustainable fishing practice. 

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Figure 2. Countries with geographic priorities for sustainable fisheries across the world. (Source: Bräutigam et al. 2015)

In support, a recent report entitled ‘Global Priorities for Conserving Sharks and Rays: A 2015—2025 Strategy’ depicts that most of the BoBLME countries not only have a geographic priority in the need for sustainable fisheries (Figure 2) but also conservation elasmobranch species (Figure 3). Unfortunately, Bangladesh is listed as priority country for both cases—a major concern and challenge for country’s biologists, conservationists, fishers, managers and policy makers. 

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Figure 3. Countries with geographic priorities for saving sharks and rays. (Source: Bräutigam et al. 2015)

However, before drawing the conclusion the authors emphasize five recommendations that can help developing a sustainably managed shark fisheries in future (rather than any outright ban on fishing) for the conservation of chondrichthyans in our ocean. Those are:

  1. Protection of species with the lowest biological productivity;
  2. Employment of more scientifically rigorous management plan for high-sea sharks by tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (tRFMOs);
  3. Proper implementation of CMS and CITES treaties;
  4. Transition of sustainability regime from developed to developing countries’ fishing practices;
  5. Development of traceability of shark products and ethical consumerism.      

At last, while the paper ‘Bright spots of sustainable shark fishing’ bears the beacon of hope and provide a scope for future intervention, it must not be forgotten that the dark spots of unsustainable shark fishing are perhaps more crucial and will guide us to the countries or locations from where to start working with.

Mahatub Khan Badhon teaches Zoology at the University of Dhaka and is affiliated with Save Our Sea as a Program Associate. He can be reached at mahatub@saveoursea.social

2 thoughts on “Does the future of sharks depend on sustainable fishing?

  1. I noticed in both Figure 2 and Figure 3, the United States is listed as a country with priorities for sustainable fisheries and saving sharks and rays, respectively. However, Alaska is not included as part of the highlighted portions, is there a reason for this? Alaska is really a model for sustainable fisheries. If it’s exclusion was unintentional, it could make those examples a bit misleading as it represents a significant amount of coast line on this planet. Also, it sadly misrepresents Alaskan fishery priorities.

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    1. Hi Rachel! I think, authors of the report wanted to focus where more actions are required for sustainable fisheries and saving sharks and rays (Figure 2 and Figure 3). Alaska is excluded because as you mentioned it is a great model, which is exemplified (referring to big green circle in Figure 1) by another study. Hence it is good that Alaska is not included in Figure 2 & 3, meaning people, local fishers and managers are taking care of their resources really well.

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