WWF’s shark management recommendations for the Western and Central Pacific laid out
Sharks and rays feature prominently in our recommendations for the 15th regular session of the Scientific Committee (SC) of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) taking place in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, on 12 – 20 August, 2019
Sharks and rays continue to make up a large percentage of bycatch in the waters managed by WCPFC. The latest stock assessments suggest that current levels of shark fishing mortality are not sustainable and result from a wide range of fishing activities i.e. not solely focused on tuna. Greater urgency is required in the face of declining shark populations, as evidenced by both the shortfin and longfin mako sharks being upgraded to Endangered globally in March this year. With this in mind, it is crucial for the Commission to recognise the need for coastal states to manage their shark populations sustainably and based on the latest science, and to consider introducing recovery plans for the most depleted species.
Prohibitions on the retention of depleted species – such as for silky and oceanic whitetip sharks – are unlikely in themselves to reverse declines, and have their own issues. For example, even less information is being collected on the catch of such species on vessels with observers, as the line may be cut before the observer can record the shark. A more comprehensive and holistic approach to recovering populations is required – one that includes a robust monitoring, control, and surveillance system with full observer coverage.
The failure of the Inter-Sessional Working Group to develop agreed recommendations for a Comprehensive Shark Conservation and Management Measure (CMM) in 2018 is disappointing. Taking into account declining shark populations in Western and Central Pacific as well as beyond, SC15 should prioritise finalising such a CMM this time round to ensure that sharks and rays – including those with CITES Appendix II trade controls in place – are managed effectively.
Shark conservation and management within WCPFC is further impaired by inconsistent bycatch definitions, inadequate data collection and related policies. One such example is the continued use of the fin-to-carcass ratio measurement, despite scientists having repeatedly shown it fails to deter vessels from shark finning and hinders catch reporting. As recommended by WWF previously, Shark CMM should include a ‘fins naturally attached’ (FNA) policy to help ensure that shark finning is eliminated, and support the Commission to ensure proper catch accounting.
Lastly, the adoption by WCPFC of best handling practices for the safe release of sharks is a welcome development. Nevertheless, the Commission should also consider making the existing voluntary best handling practices for manta and devil rays a regulatory requirement, and in particular for purse seine vessels.
An update on the SC15 proceedings and results will be shared once the session has concluded.