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International Shark Debates Put U.S. Positions in Spotlight

Atlantic fisheries managers consider proposals to protect makos and combat finning

WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Conservationists are urging U.S. leadership at an international fisheries meeting that could turn the tide for Endangered mako sharks and help prevent finning (slicing off a shark's fins and discarding the body at sea). At its annual meeting this week in Mallorca, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) will consider proposals to: (1) ban retention of shortfin makos based on sobering new science, and (2) require that all sharks landed have their fins still attached to ease finning ban enforcement. The U.S. ranked third among 53 ICCAT Parties for 2018 landings of North Atlantic shortfin makos. The government's position on a mako ban is not yet clear. The U.S. has worked for a decade to strengthen ICCAT's finning ban.

"The U.S. has long been a global leader in shark conservation and never has its support for scientific advice and the precautionary approach been more critical," said Sonja Fordham, president of Shark Advocates International, a project of The Ocean Foundation. "The U.S. approach to ICCAT's shark debates could decide whether the body continues to fail these vulnerable species or takes a turn toward responsible measures that set positive international precedents."

Shortfin makos are valued for meat, fins, and sport. Slow growth makes them exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing. ICCAT scientists warn that recovery of the North Atlantic population would take ~25 years even if none were caught, and recommend banning retention.

The shortfin mako is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. In August, the U.S. opposed a successful proposal to list makos on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix II. CITES Parties (including all ICCAT Parties) must soon demonstrate that mako exports are sourced from legal, sustainable fisheries.

"Concerned citizens can help by encouraging continued U.S. leadership toward responsible, science-based shark fishing restrictions," continued Fordham. "For makos, nothing matters more right now than ICCAT's decisions, and U.S. support for the recommended ban is crucial. It's truly make or break time."

ICCAT's finning ban relies on a fin-to-body ratio that is difficult to enforce. Requiring that sharks be landed with fins attached is the best way to prevent finning. U.S.- led "fins attached" proposals boast majority support from ICCAT Parties. Japan has blocked consensus.

 

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