Case studies of the management of elasmobranch fisheries


Edited by
Ross Shotton
Fishery Resources Officer
Marine Resources Service
FAO Fisheries Department
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
00100 Rome, Italy

The designations employed and the presentation of material in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

ISBN 92-5-104291-8

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Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Rome, 1999


For sometime the situation of sharks and shark fisheries has been of concern to the FAO Fisheries Department. In 1994 CITES asked FAO to monitor the production of sharks and trade in shark products. Subsequently, the Fisheries Department of FAO agreed with the Japanese Fisheries Agency that part of the funds provided by the Government of Japan to FAO for implementation of the Kyoto Declaration and plan of Action1 should be used on matters related to shark fisheries. This, together with the desire of the FAO's Fisheries Department to provide comparative accounts and analyses of national and regional fisheries management practices, resulted in the decision to produce this report. The task was also consistent with the decision of the FAO 1997 22nd COFI meeting that the Fisheries Department should investigate issues relating to the conservation and management of sharks (meaning, in fact, elasmobranchs in general).

In undertaking this task, an objective had been to describe elasmobranch management practices within the context of respective national fisheries administrations. Thus, for most case studies, the interested reader is able, if he wishes, to simultaneously learn of related national management practices including the management objective setting and subsequent fisheries policy formulation, evaluation and selection processes, how fisheries data and catch statistics systems are run, stock assessment procedures, if any, and the role and manner of enforcement of fisheries regulations in the context of the national fisheries laws. This context setting has been done as it was felt it was essential for the serious reader to understand the fisheries sectors1 circumstances in which the respective management regimes operate. Only in this way would the challenges that exist for elasmobranch management be fully appreciated. Many of the authors have been so successful in achieving this goal that readers may find that, by comparative study of the various chapters of the report, the papers enable analysis of aspects of national fisheries management practices unrelated to that solely of elasmobranchs.

Despite this report's size and depth of treatment, we are aware of its deficiencies. A particular failure has been the gaps in the geographical balance that this topic warrants. There were two reasons. It soon became clear that, lamentably, for many major global areas, there is no management of elasmobranch resources. The reasons are varied. In some cases it is because of national indifference, in others, institutional incapacity, either lack of technical skills, funds for management, or human resources. A common reason, and one which provides the greatest difficulty in surmounting, is that while the need for effective elasmobranch management is well appreciated by many fisheries departments, they are faced with exigencies, if not crises, of greater management priority. Thus, the neglect that management of elasmobranchs suffers, and was the motivation for preparing this report, is often regretted, not least by those responsible for their management.

Another report goal has, it seems, been achieved en passant. It is the unequivocal documentation of the sad neglect that management of elasmobranchs receives, not only in regions where competition for management resources can be expected to be fierce, but also in many areas where levels of economic prosperity are such that little, or no, valid reasons exists for the neglect of the husbandry of resources which so many states have claimed under the aegis of the Law of the Sea and extension of national jurisdictions. In these regions, the failure to manage what are national patrimonies must be seen more as an issue of national values rather than one of scarcity of resources. Of course, such comments are not found for the first time here.

As editor, a further regret, and alas, deficiency of the report, is that having assembled an impressive collection of information, no synthesis of the information has been provided. To those who work outside of the FAO system, lack of time and other urgencies may barely qualify as excuses - but these reasons are all that can be offered. The invitation is extended to those with an interest in comparative fisheries management to avail themselves of the wealth of information the various chapters' authors have provided.

1 See

A common concern within the Fisheries Department of the FAO is how best to deliver advisory services to clients. Case studies, such as these, are one of the Fisheries Department's options and in undertaking the task it is, we believe, a potentially effective means of communicating relevant management practices. It is hoped that this report will prove, for many fisheries administrators, to be a source of excellent examples that national management jurisdictions may wish to emulate. Despite the criticism by some of the authors of their national elasmobranch management accounts, many of the reports show that the management challenges in several parts of the world have been fully recognized, and the task of conservation of their elasmobranch resources resolutely tackled. And, the professionalism of some of the management practices documented in this volume is truly impressive. We believe that with the publishing of this account, the need for appropriate management examples as potential models will be well served. To the extent that the FAO Fisheries Deparment's task is to provide such information, we trust that at least in this restricted example, the reports the authors have prepared well and truly satisfy the Fisheries Department's mandate.

Any introduction to a report as substantial as this would be remiss in not offering the reader short of time at least some synopsis of the reports that it contains no matter how brief. And, it must be acknowledged that these few paragraphs can serve barely even as prima pati. However, the theme that dominates all papers is the dissatisfaction of the authors with the quality of elasmobranch catch data, both in identifying the species that are caught, and the amount of catch and landings - usually not the same thing because of unreported discards - that occurs despite such information being the basis for effective management. While in some cases, aggregation of species data is a consequence of lack of suitable species identification keys, more commonly it is the result of lack of motivation to ensure that resources (funds and staff) are available to accurately identify the elasmobranch catch composition, but not always. In several chapters it is noted that national regulations have been changed to ensure that the fins and other body parts remain attached to the carcasses to enable identification of the shark, a task that outside of using DNA techniques becomes almost impossible once the fins are separated from the body. Aggregation of the data for catches of different fish species is apparently a curse not only for analysts of shark fisheries but also for the skates and rays where the market provides little price differential between species and thus little motivation for fishermen to separate their catch by species. Chapter 29 reports on the extent of this, at least for effective management, deplorable practice.

The Northeast Atlantic is represented by an omnibus account that, as the authors, Pawson and Vince note, is not matched by the commitment to active management in the area, primarily the remit of the European Union. Two detailed accounts of regional management in the Maritimes of Canada and the Southwest US complement the Northeast Atlantic study. Two studies are available for the western Caribbean; a regional account of the CARICOM area which underlines the difficulty of shared stock management in an area that is only now marshalling the resources needed even for basic domestic management requirements. The second study for this region is from Guatemala. Here, the unilingual anglophone must come to grips with the limitation of the budget available for the preparation of this document. Characteristically, translating reports such as those in this paper cost far more that the author's emolument, or the payment to their institutions in the increasing number of cases where there is a mandatory cost recovery process. The decision to use the funds available to expand the scope of the report at the expense of sending the interested reader for his Spanish-English dictionary has been an easy one.

The management of two skate fisheries in the Atlantic are described, one in the northwest and the other in the southwest, both recently begun. The Newfoundland fishery, prompted by the search for new resources is in the area of one of the oldest and most famous fisheries of the world, that of the cod fisheries, now collapsed. In contrast, industrial fisheries in the Falkland Islands/Malvinas2 region have been prosecuted for just over two decades. Readers are offered an interesting comparison of management approaches - both self evidently meritous. While the Falklands Island fishery is managed from Britain, the administration of both these fisheries is in strong contrast to the situation for skate in the European Union area. The South Atlantic is further represented, in the east by a study from South Africa and in the west by one from Uruguay that focuses on a specific elasmobranch group - Cazón (Galeorhinus galeus) - the soupfin shark.

2 Place names used in this report follow the practice of the authors - no use by them implies FAO endorsement or institutional practice.

East Africa, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, despite their abundance of elasmobranchs, along with West Africa, remain unaddressed by this report. More success has been had slightly to the east where accounts have been obtained from the Seychelles and the Maldives. In the former, the effect of eco-tourism in causing the closure of the shark fishery, at least officially, is still to be revealed whereas in the Maldives a fascinating account is provided of how the tourism sector has been considered a major factor in formulation of national shark management plans. These two studies are complemented by those from India and Sri Lanka, both important elasmobranch fishing nations, but with the more conventional goal of feeding national populations.

We believe that readers will agree that the three reports that have been provided on national shark fishery management from Australia take honours. The quality of these papers has, no doubt, been facilitated by the efforts Australia puts into management of this fish group. The study from New Zealand on the opposite side of the Tasman provides an interesting complement. Readers interested in shared-stock management should be interested (and depressed) by the considerable evidence for the movement of sharks between these two countries despite their separation - at a minimum 1200 miles! And, readers will get some idea of how New Zealand's Quota Management System is being applied to such an interesting group taken primarily as a bycatch fishery.

The north Pacific is represented by an interesting contribution from Japan, the country in which started the first NGO concerned with the study and conservation of sharks. Fiji offers a Pacific comparison to the small-island-state fisheries in the Indian Ocean. Again, shark fins and bycatches from foreign fishing ventures that target tuna figure prominently but with management complicated by traditional indiginent rights and management practices and eco-tourism concerns.

Three accounts are given for the west coast of the Americas; that for British Columbia echoes the accounts of many of the others in emphasizing the role that shark livers, or more accurately, their vitamin A content, have played in development of these fisheries, in addition to the importance of shark liver oil for its role as an illuminant, lubricant and oil base for paints. Following the US account, a further contribution (in Spanish) describes the fishery in Ecuador. The chapter from Ecuador contains an extensive photographic record of small-scale shark fisheries handling practices that should interest those whose association with this group of fishes and related fishing practices gets no closer than the printed page.

To these national accounts have been added several regional accounts. One examines specifically the fishery for soupfin shark (Galeorhinus galeus) in a global context. Another looks at the, as yet only beginning to be appreciated, concerns associated with the exploitation of deepwater sharks, either as targeted fisheries or as bycatch. One account is given of the ways elasmobranchs are handled by a regional tuna commission, though of course they are not alone, as a regional tuna fisheries body in these concerns over shark bycatch monitoring and management practices.

Because of the lead shown by non-governmental organizations in addressing the issues of elasmobranch conservation, we have thought it useful to include an account of the NGOs that are involved in this issue and a brief description of their activities. Then finally, an account is given of the deplorable state of global catch statistics relating to the chondrichthyans. In this regard, there is no doubt that much blame exists to be shared by many but, at the end of the day, converting concerns for conservation into management practices requires the existence of a solid foundation of information. This does not exist at present and more so the loss because much could be done to improve the quality of statistics at little cost other than national administrations' commitment to the importance of collecting (and providing) such data.

Those who do manage to read even only a minority of the papers will not fail to be impressed by the geographical range of elasmobranchs, from the shallows of seas to their abysses and from the tropics to the high latitudes. This ubiquity in occurrence is matched by the morphological variability of this group, from torpedo-like ocean cruisers to sedentary dorso-ventrally compressed gliders. The opportunity has been taken to use the Fisheries Department's species illustration archives to illustrate the start of each chapter with a family representative. With 59 families and 29 chapters, not all families are shown. Those that are, follow the arrangement of Dr Compagnao (p905) in consecutive chapters - and thus a taxonomic sequence. Thus the family example illustrating a chapter is unlikely to be the chapter's subject.

While this report offers readers description both of best, and contemporary, management practices (of course the null situation cannot be addressed) it does not address all issues of elasmobranch conservation and management that require attention. Foremost among these is the situation of freshwater elasmobranchs. This group is matched, perhaps only by the freshwater mammals, in terms of threats to their survival. New species of large freshwater elasmobranchs are still being described and ranges of known species extended (L.J.V. Compagno, South Africa Museum, pers. comm.). Little or no data is collected on their capture, much less reported. Next of concern are the deepwater elasmobranchs, now under particular threat both because of: (a) their often limited distribution about specific depth intervals in the case of slope fisheries; (b) the rapid expansion of fisheries for deepwater species and which take elasmobranchs as a bycatch, despite their promise to be short-lived as the small stocks they target are fished out before effective management can be implemented; and (c) the absence of any of the biological knowledge required for management, when there is any management at all. Further, data on the species caught are usually aggregated, often unavoidably, because there is no basis to treat them separately. An example of a welcome step towards reducing this problem is the recent decision in New Zealand that catch reports of ghost sharks must be separated3 for dark ghost shark (Hydrolagus novaezealandiae) and pale ghost shark (Hydrolagus sp. B2), a species not yet scientifically described (Catches of the other five species of uncommon ghost sharks remain undifferentiated).

The third area of great conservation concern is that of elasmobranch bycatch effects - an estimated 50% of the world catch of elasmobranchs is believed to be taken as bycatch4. Because of their almost global range, few fisheries are without some form of elasmobranch bycatch. Because of this group's population biology characteristics, - low fecundity, late maturity and low growth rates together with their vulnerability to capture - they are particularly susceptible to exploitation and depleted populations are unable to recover quickly; many such species are described in Chapter 28 which lists elasmobranchs whose survival is threatened. Some fisheries commissions are specifically addressing this issue, notably the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission and the International Commission for Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, but this threat is usually characterized more by neglect than management attention.

Readers should be aware of certain conventions. The U.S. dollar is exclusively referred to using the conventional symbol “$” and several papers report values and currencies in US and national units. Other currencies using the same name are shown with the conventional identifier affixed, eg, $A, $Can, $F, $NZ for Australia, Canada, Fiji, New Zealand, etc. The unit of weight of 1000kg is referred to as a tonne, abbreviated to “t” following standard Système International practice. Where the term “ton” has been used, it refers to a US short ton of 2000lb.

This publication is one of a series on elasmobranchs produced by the Fisheries Department of the FAO. The last, by R. Bonfil, titled “Overview of world elasmobranch fisheries” was published in 19945. This report was preceded by that of R. Kreuzer and R. Ahmed published in 1978 which was titled “Shark Utilization and Marketing”. This report is in the process of being updated by Ms S. Vannuccini and will be re-titled “Shark Utilization, Marketing and Trade” and should be published by May 1999. Another report, “A Preliminary evaluation of the status of shark species” by J.I. Castro, C.M. Woodly and P.L. Brudek is also nearly completed and will be published in 1999. It describes the current status of many of the world's elasmobranchs on a species basis.

3 For those interested, how to do this is described by M. Francis and P. Millan (1998) In “How to Tell Dark and Pale Ghost Sharks Apart”. Seafood New Zealand 6(11):29–30.
4 Concerned readers should refer to Stevens, J.D., R. Bonfil, N.K. Dulvy and P.A. Walker. In press. The effects of fishing on chondricthyans, and the implications for marine ecosystems. Submitted to the Proceedings of the SCOR/ICES Symp. on the Effects of Fishing on the Ecosystem. Montpellier, France. March 1999.
5 FAO Fisheries Technical Paper No. 341. Copies are still available free to institutional libraries.

R. Shotton
Marine Resources Service
Fisheries Department
FAO, Rome
April 1999.


Credits are owed for the production of this report, first to the International Affairs Division of the Japanese Fisheries Agency for their financial contribution, without which, this initiative would not have begun. These funds for authors' contracts were supplemented by the Marine Resources Service of the Fisheries Department of the FAO. My secretary, Ms Marie-Thérèse Magnan has done a magnificent job in reformatting every report as well as wrestling with the graphics, often provided in software previously unknown to either of us. And of course, all of this work was done in addition to her normal work load of support to my other programmes and those of the two other fisheries officers for whom she co-equally provides the sole secretarial support. But, errors of script, editing and other layout mistakes, must lie at my feet. Thanks are also due to Sr Ignacio de Leiva, FIRM, for kindly reviewing the text of the Spanish chapters.

Shotton, R. (ed.)
Case studies of the management of elasmobranch fisheries.
FAO Fisheries Technical Paper. No. 378, part 1. Rome, FAO. 1999. pp.1–479
This report, consisting of 29 studies, describes the relevant population biology, resource analyses and fishery management of elasmobranchs at regional, national and sub-regional levels - in Atlantic Europe, the United States, the Caribbean, Guatemala, South Africa, Uruguay, the Falkland Islands, the Seychelles, two states in India, the Maldives, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Fiji and Ecuador. Regional accounts are also presented of the management of Galeorhinus galeus in different national fisheries, management of deepwater shark populations and management of elasmobranchs within the context of a regional tuna fisheries commission. A description of the activities of Non-governmental Organizations in relation to elasmobranchs is given and an account of the quality of the reported elasmobranchs landings data available in the FAO Nominal Catches and Landings Data Base.
In general, the case studies cover the topics of the resource (species composition of fishery, distribution of fishery and associated species either as bycatch or discards) and development and current status of the means of prosecuting the fishery and the harvesting process. The evolution of the catch, fleet and fishing effort are also given. In terms of commerce, fishery markets and revenues from the fishery are described where possible together with comments of the economics of the fishery and information relating to the fisheries workforce.
In relation to fisheries administration, management objectives and national fisheries policies are described, in particular, any that exist for elasmobranch fisheries, and the manner in which the planning process functions. Where applicable, the objective setting process, the stakeholders in the process and how the negotiations are handled are described. Who may fish and how access is granted and controlled is noted, its cost, and the nature of fishery property rights, if any. If there are gear restrictions, their nature and effectiveness is described together with any regulations on vessel characteristics. Likewise, where regulations exist (on catch, closed seasons, effort limitations, or other) they are described. The authors further provide a descriptive and critical review of the policy setting process in relation to the elasmobranch fisheries, its successes, ongoing and unresolved problems and the nature of their weaknesses.
Where there is an annual operational management planning process, the provision of resource management advice together with a description of national departments involved in this process are described. Descriptions are given of the management support activities, e.g., the methods used for collection of catch and effort data together with evaluations of the process and its problems. Several of the papers discuss stock assessment activities including reviews of the process. Many accounts complement this with descriptions and analyses of the biological advice review process and comments on the sustainability of the resource. National accounts also describe the relevant law and enforcement process. Finally there are descriptions of the extent of management success, e.g. the profitability of the fishery and the social welfare implications of the management objectives and policies. Where possible, the costs of management are given.
The report consists of two parts. The first part contains the analyses for the fisheries in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, Malaysia and northern Australia. The second part contains the case studies for Southern Australia and the Pacific Ocean, the regional accounts and the descriptions of the activities of NGOs and quality of reported landings data.

Keywords: Elasmobranchs, sharks, rays, fisheries management, catch statistics, NGOs.


FAO Fisheries Department
FAO Regional Fishery Officers

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1.Management of shark fisheries in the Northeast Atlantic
 (M. Pawson and M. Vince)
2.An overview of the Grand Banks Skate Fishery
 (D.W. Kulka and F.K. Mowbray)
3.Management of shark fisheries in Atlantic Canada
 (W.N. Joyce)
4.The management of the United States Atlantic shark fishery
 (S. Branstetter)
5.Shark fisheries in the Caribbean: the status of their management including issues of concern in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Dominica
 (C. Chan A Shing)
6.Estudio sobre la pesquería del tiburón en Guatemala
 (C. Ruiz Alvarado and N. Mijangos López)
7.Management of elasmobranch fisheries in South Africa
 (D.W. Japp)
8.La pesquería de tiburones en Uruguay con especial referencia al cazón (Galeorhinus galeus Linnaeus 1758)
 (H. Nion)
9.Management of the Falkland Islands skate and ray fishery
 (D.J. Agnew, C.P. Nolan and J. Pompert)
10.Management of shark fisheries in Seychelles
 (J. Nageon de Lestang)
11.Management of shark fisheries in two Indian coastal states: Tamil Nadu and Kerala
 (F. Hanfee)
12.Management of shark fisheries in Sri Lanka
 (L. Joseph)
13.Management of shark fisheries in the Maldives
 (R.C. Anderson and Z. Waheed)
14.Management of shark fisheries in Malaysia
 (A. Ali, R. Ali, M. Nasir and I. Salleh)
15.Management of shark fisheries in Western Australia
 (C. Simpfendorfer)
16.Management of shark fisheries in Northern Australia
 (J.D. Stevens)
17.Southern Australian shark fishery management
 (T.I. Walker)
18.New Zealand shark fishery management
 (M.P. Francis and B. Shallard)
19.Fishery management of sharks in Japan
 (H. Nakano)
20.Shark fisheries in Fiji: their management and issues of future concern
 (K. Swamy)
21.The dogfish (Squalus acanthias) fishery of British Columbia, Canada and its management
 (R. Bonfil)
22.Management of shark fisheries off the West Coast of the USA
 (D.L. Hanson)
23.Casos de estudios sobre el manejo de las pesquerías de tiburones en el Ecuador
 (J. Martinez)
24.Galeorhinus galeus fisheries of the world
 (T. Walker)
25.Management considerations of deep-water shark fisheries
 (J.D.M. Gordon)
26.Management of shark control programmes
 (S.F.J. Dudley and N.A. Gribble)
27.Shark and related species catch in tuna fisheries of the tropical Western and Central Pacific Ocean
 (P.G. Williams)
28.The role of non-governmental organisations in the international conservation of elasmobranchs
 (S. Fowler)
29.Species identification practices of countries reported landings of Chondrichthyan fishes in the FAO nominal catches and landings data base
 (R. Shotton)