ICCAT’s annual meeting concludes with very mixed results for pelagic sharks in the Atlantic
26th annual meeting of ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) concluded in Spain on 25 November, bringing both good and bad news for sharks. Unsustainable bycatch of the endangered shortfin mako shark will continue as the EU, US, and Curaçao blocked the adoption of a ‘zero-retention policy’ for the species. On the other hand, member states agreed to adopt science-based management measures for blue sharks, including first-ever catch quotas for any pelagic sharks.
ICCAT rejected the proposal backed by a large coalition of members and scientists for a zero-retention policy for the dwindling shortfin mako shark population in the Atlantic. The proposal would have prevented vessels from intentionally catching and keeping accidentally caught individuals (“bycatch”) on board. That policy was proposed in a bid to recover the dangerously depleted population, which according to ICCAT’s own stock assessment will continue declining in the Atlantic until 2035, even under a 0-tons catch. Instead, however, the commission decided that already dead, accidentally caught makos can be retained and landed, as long as there is either an observer or a functioning electronic monitoring system on board. WWF is deeply disappointed that the opposing member states – and, as a result, the entire ICCAT – failed to act on the scientific advice that the catch and retention ban was the best available solution to the shortfin mako crisis. In light of this, unsustainable fishing of this species, which was classified as globally endangered by the IUCN earlier this year and then listed under CITES Appendix II to control its international trade, will likely continue in the Atlantic.
While overshadowed by the shortfin mako failure, ICCAT members agreed to adopt a set of science-based management measures to conserve blue sharks, the most commonly harvested shark species in the world. In a historic first, the commission reached an agreement to set precautionary catch limits for the Atlantic blue sharks. This decision marks the first time in history when a regional fisheries management organisation (RFMO) agreed to introduce science-based catch quotas for any shark species. WWF welcomes the adoption of this measure, which is an important step towards a more sustainable management of the blue shark globally.
WWF also welcomes the fact that all the 53 member states agreed to adopt new text of the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (“ICCAT Convention”). The updated version of the Convention will not only enable the commission to directly manage shark fisheries in the Atlantic, but also strengthen and make the decision-making process more transparent.
Latest press release issued by WWF Mediterranean Marine Initiative, which also comments on other, non-shark related measures and results of this ICCAT meeting, can be found here: http://www.wwfmmi.org/newsroom/latest_news/?uNewsID=356306.