Making the Seas Safe for Sharks

Making the Seas Safe for Sharks

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Last 12 months, Earth911 inspired readers to take motion by signing a petition to protect endangered shark species. And it seems that world leaders listened. At the CITES Convention in Panama final November, delegates elected to tremendously increase the variety of shark and ray species protected beneath CITES. The worldwide treaty now covers greater than 100 endangered and threatened species of sharks and rays. It was a significant win for a broadly misunderstood group of fish. But there’s nonetheless a protracted technique to go.


There are greater than 450 species of sharks, a gaggle of cartilaginous fishes that developed greater than 400 million years in the past. Most sharks are apex predators of their marine ecosystems. Apex predators are inclined to act as keystone species in an ecosystem, protecting biodiversity by regulating prey populations. Sharks and their shut kinfolk, rays, are often migratory, take a few years to mature, and have just a few younger at a time. All of those traits make them vulnerable to decline.

In the final 50 years, shark populations have dropped by as much as 70%, with practically a fifth of reef populations turning into functionally extinct. By some estimates, greater than a 3rd of shark species at the moment are threatened with extinction. Warming waters, ocean air pollution, and overfishing can immediately scale back shark populations in addition to deplete their meals sources. Reliable numbers are exhausting to seek out, however every year it’s estimated that 100 million sharks are killed for his or her fins and as bycatch from different fishing industries.


The first shark species obtained safety beneath CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, in 2003. At CoP19 final fall, 97 species of sharks and rays – together with 19 requiem shark species, that are among the many most endangered and least regulated, have been proposed for regulation. All of them have been added to CITES Appendix II – a listing of threatened species that require safety by commerce controls to take care of a sustainable inhabitants.

CITES is a voluntary however binding worldwide settlement that requires contributors to undertake home laws complying with the established safety framework. That framework topics worldwide commerce in chosen species to a licensing system. Each celebration to the Convention should set up a administration authority in command of the licensing system and set up a scientific authority to advise them on how commerce impacts the standing of protected species.

Finning was already unlawful within the United States. But after years in limbo, inside weeks of Cop19, the U.S. Senate handed the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act as a part of H.R. 7776 that made the commerce or sale of shark fins unlawful as nicely. Only 21 shark species are currently listed as endangered or threatened beneath the Endangered Species Act, which is the first U.S. laws that enacts CITES.

Dead sharks in a fish market
The biggest threats to most shark species are overfishing and bycatch.

Fishing and Bycatch

Direct harvesting, by overfishing and bycatch, is the greatest threat to most shark species. While Americans not have to fret about native eating places serving shark fin soup, sharks are nonetheless threatened as bycatch in different fishing industries. In the Pacific, American vessels engaged in open ocean longline fishing transitioned to monofilament chief materials to scale back bycatch by 40%. A brand new system referred to as SharkGuard is being examined which will scale back bycatch by as much as 90%. But whilst essentially the most accountable fisheries nonetheless have a technique to go earlier than attaining sustainability, common reports by NOAA point out that many international locations proceed to allow unlawful, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. To make sure that you solely eat essentially the most sustainable seafood, verify the Seafood Watch App or print a sustainable seafood guide.

When touring in areas the place shark fishing is still legal, resist the urge to attempt consuming shark. Even in international locations the place shark fins and meat are nonetheless authorized, eating them contributes to their extinction. In the U.S. and overseas, merchandise made from shark should not as strictly regulated as shark meat and fins. Beware of souvenirs made out of the enamel or skins of sharks and rays. Look for extra sustainable fish leathers as an alternative. Just as whale-watching is usually a software for conservation, shark-watching excursions – from a ship or diving – are gaining popularity. However, like whale-watching, it’s necessary to research guidelines for moral and secure (for you and the sharks) practices and suppliers earlier than spending cash.

Protecting Sharks

Preserving the biodiversity of ocean life helps keep the steadiness of a wholesome ocean ecosystem. And every shark species performs a job in sustaining that steadiness. Yet the identical environmental injury that harms different marine species additionally threatens sharks. You may help protect the oceans by lowering your personal carbon footprint, working in the direction of a plastic-free life-style, and contacting your elected representatives in assist of legislation and treaties that defend endangered marine species and ecosystems.