Elasmobranch fisheries are a traditional and common activity of minor global importance but they provide important sources of hard currency, protein and employment to many local communities. They are particularly important in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Australia. Elasmobranch are fished with a range of gears from subsistence fisheries with artisanal gears and vessels, as is the case of some sail-powered boats in India, to highly industrialized fisheries with longlines, gillnets or trawls and as the distant water fishing nations of Japan, Taiwan (Prov. of China), Spain and the former Soviet Union.
There are 26 countries that are major exploiters of elasmobranchs (harvest more than 10 000t/yr). Among these, Japan, Indonesia, India, Taiwan (Prov. of China) and Pakistan have the highest average elasmobranch yields. About 30% of the 26 countries show recent falling trends in production. The analysis of Indexes of Relative Production by FAO major fishing areas suggests that further increases in exploitation of sharks and rays might possible, especially in the South East Pacific (Area 87), North East Pacific (Area 67) and the South East Atlantic (Area 47).
Although there are some specific fisheries for elasmobranchs (e.g. south Australian shark fishery, fisheries for sharks in Argentina and Mexico and basking shark fisheries of Norway), the larger part of world sharks and rays catches are taken incidentally. Official fisheries statistics do not properly reflect the amounts of sharks and rays harvested every year in the world's oceans. Although official figures report about 700 000t/yr of elasmobranchs caught at the end of the 1980's, the actual level is at least of 1 000 000t/yr and possibly 1 350 000t.
The by catches of sharks in large-scale high seas fisheries around the world are large, amounting possibly to almost 50% of the reported catches from commercial fisheries. The number of sharks caught annually in these fisheries during 1989–1991 is estimated at 11.6–12.7 million. The longline fisheries for tunas of Japan, Korea and Taiwan (Prov. of China) account for most of these bycatches. More detailed information is needed to address the magnitude of this problem and its effects upon shark populations. Observer programmes must be implemented for these fisheries to obtain reliable information about yields, discards, and the extent of finning practices. There are serious deficiencies in both the reporting and handling of the catch statistics. Of particular concern is the poor species discrimination which complicates appraisals. Fisheries statistics must be improved both in coverage of the fisheries and the dissaggregation of species.