Archive for November, 2008

Northeast Atlantic sharks and rays facing extinction

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

One quarter of Northeast Atlantic sharks and rays threatened with extinction

First IUCN Red List assessment of all 116 species in the region

The release of the first ever IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ assessment of Northeast Atlantic sharks and closely related rays and chimaeras reveals that 26% are Threatened with extinction, and another 20% are in the Near Threatened category. The total number of threatened species may well be underestimated as there was insufficient information to assess over a quarter (27%) of the species.

The report, released by the IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG), is the result of a regional workshop to evaluate the status of the Northeast Atlantic’s “chondrichthyan” species using IUCN Red List Categories and CriteriaTM. The findings reveal that the percentage of shark, ray and chimaera species classified as Threatened (Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable) in the Northeast Atlantic is significantly higher than for the than the same statistic globally (26% v. 18%). Specifically, 7% of species in the Northeast Atlantic are classified as Critically Endangered, 7% as Endangered, and 12% as Vulnerable, primarily due to overfishing.

Silky shark, Photo Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch

Silky shark, Carcharhinus falciformis. Global Red List Assessment: Near Threatened. Photo and Copyright © Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch.

“From angel sharks to devil rays, Northeast Atlantic populations of these vulnerable species are in serious trouble, more so than in many other parts of the world”, said Claudine Gibson, former Programme Officer for the IUCN SSG and lead author of the report. “Most sharks and rays are exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing because of their tendency to grow slowly, mature late, and produce few young… “Those at greatest risk of extinction in the Northeast Atlantic include heavily fished, large sharks and rays, like porbeagle and common skate, as well as commercially valuable deepwater sharks and spiny dogfish.”

The European Union (EU) has provided species-specific fishing limits for only four of the region’s 116 chondrichthyans. Basking and great white sharks are legally protected in the EU; catch limits for spiny dogfish and porbeagle sharks exist, but are regularly set in excess of scientific advice. There are broad EU limits on multiple species of skates and rays as well as deepwater sharks, but these are also not yet in line with scientists’ recommendations. The UK and Sweden are the only Northeast Atlantic countries to provide full national protection for certain shark and ray species. Beyond some agreements between the EU and Norway, there are no international catch limits for Northeast Atlantic chondrichthyans.

The coming weeks bring multiple opportunities to improve the status of Northeast Atlantic sharks and rays through meetings of international fisheries and wildlife bodies, the annual process for setting EU quotas, and a long-awaited European Community Plan of Action for sharks and related species. The report includes specific recommendations for conservation action based on scientific advice.

“Never before have European countries had more reason or opportunity to safeguard the beleaguered shark and ray species of the Northeast Atlantic,” said Sonja Fordham, Deputy Chair of the SSG and Policy Director for the Shark Alliance. “Country officials should heed the dire warnings of this report and act to protect threatened sharks and rays at national, regional and international levels. Such action is immediately possible and absolutely necessary to change the current course toward extinction of these remarkable ocean animals.”

Experts from government agencies, universities and private institutions in the UK, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Croatia, Russia, Sweden, Canada and the USA participated in the regional workshop that formed the basis for the report. This and several other regional workshops have contributed to the development of the SSG’s ‘Global Shark Red List Assessment’, supported by Conservation International (CI).  “The completion of this global assessment of sharks and their relatives will provide an important baseline for monitoring the status of these keystone species in our oceans” said Roger McManus, Vice-President for CI’s Marine Programs.