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R. Shotton

Marine Resources Service, Fisheries Department, FAO
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy


A major purpose of identifying the species of fish taken in commercial fishing is usually to obtain the information required to develop fisheries management plans. If a species, or group of species, is not the subject of a specific management plan, then usually there is little demand for accurate species identification of those particular fish in the catch. Because many elasmobranchs are taken as bycatch, or as incidental species, and are not the object of specific management plans, unsurprisingly, few countries assign high priority to collecting accurate data on the species composition of this group in catches. Because there is little, if any, market differentiation between species of many elasmobranch groups, little incentive exists to undertake the often specialized work necessary to identify the catch by species. Further, because of the similar physical appearance of many elasmobranchs species groups and the removal of body parts (e.g. fins) at sea that are necessary to identify individuals by species, such work, if possible, is difficult. Port sampling technicians usually require special training and species identification guides to do such work accurately.

Details of the composition of elasmobranchs (and most types of fishes) in fish landings in the FAO data base are reported across the full range of possible levels of species aggregation (or disaggregation). In the most aggregated form, FAO records may only show reported fish landings as “nei”, i.e. not elsewhere indicated' - all that can be assumed is that the landings consisted of fish. For elasmobranchs, catches may be reported at the order, family, genus or species level. Note should be taken of the term “reported” landings. It is believed that a large amount of fish catches are discarded at the point of capture and are not included in the reported landings. Alternatively, landings of fish are made that are not reported, either because there is no collection of catch statistics (probably the major cause), or because data on landings are deliberately withheld.

The lack of emphasis placed on accurate reporting of the species composition of elasmobranch catches is a great loss given the characteristics of this fish group. Elasmobranchs seem to occur in all ocean habitats, from ankle deep water (as those who have trod on a stingray will attest), to the deepest parts of the oceans, where their presence has been shown from deepwater photographs of deliberately introduced bait, and increasingly by new deepwater fisheries. And, they are also found through out all ranges of latitude, from polar seas to those of the tropics. Few fisheries do not take at least some elasmobranchs as bycatch and in trawl fisheries there is evidence that this has lead (Brander 1981), or is leading to (Casey and Myers 1998, Walker and Hislop 1998) their local extinction. The sensitivity of elasmobranch species composition and population sizes to fishing should make them an ideal indicator of stresses on the icthyofaunal composition of areas exploited by fisheries. However, because of the lack of demand for information for immediate use in their management,the potential of accurate statistics on elamobranch catches has been, to a great part, forgone. But that is not to say that no further benefits from collection of accurate species composition data would exist.

1 Chondrichthyan, or cartilaginous fishes consist of two living subclasses, of which by the far the most important is the Elasmobranchii - the sharks and rays. For technical accuracy, and because interesting fisheries exist for the other subclass, the Holocephali, or chimaeras, the name for the aggregate group is used in this chapter.

Formal reporting of catches of some groups of elasmobranchs remains essentially non-existent, as is the case for those living in freshwater habitats. Perversely, these elasmobranchs may also be among those that are the most endangered. However, lamentations will not change national and regional priorities regarding collection of fisheries landings (or capture) statistics. One objective of this chapter is, by providing a comparision of the nature of national reporting practices, to encourage fisheries departments to examine their catch reporting practices and assign greater priority to collection and reporting of accurate data fully disaggregated to the species level.


Several authoritative guides exist that describe the systematic relationship of the fishes comprising the chondrichthyan fishes of which the elasmobranchs are the major group. The following classification combines the taxonomic structure of Nelson (1994) with a working classification of cartilaginous fishes for the revised FAO Shark Catalogue and proposed catalogues of batoids and chimaeroids (L.J.V. Compagno, pers. comm., 30 September 1998):

Class 5. Chondrichthyes Cartilaginous fishes, sharklike fishes
Subclass Holocephali  
Order 3 ChimaeriformesChimaeras
Families CallorhynchidaePlownose chimaeras
 1Chimaeridae2Shortnose chimaeras or ratfishes
 RhinochimaeridaeLongnose chimaeras
Subclass ElasmobranchiiSharks and rays
Order 4 Heterodontiformes 
Family2HeterodontidaeBullhead, horn, Port Jackson sharks
Order 5 OrectolobiformesCarpet sharks
FamiliesParascyllidaeCollared carpet sharks
 3BrachaeluridaeBlind sharks
 HemiscylliidaeBamboo sharks
 PseudoginglymostomatidaeShorttail nurse sharks
 5GinglymostomatidaeNurse sharks
 6StegostomatidaeZebra sharks
 7RhincodontidaeWhale sharks
Order 6 CarcharhiniformesGround sharks
 Families 8ScyliorhinidaeCat sharks
 Proscylliidaefinback cat sharks
 Pseudotriakidaefalse cat sharks
 Leptochariidaebarbeled houndsharks
 HemigaleidaeWeasel sharks
10CarcharhinidaeRequiem sharks
Order 7 LamniformesMackerel sharks
Families MitsukurinidaeGoblin sharks
11CarchariidaeSand tiger sharks
 OdontaspididaeDeepwater sand sharks
 PseudocarchariidaeCrocodile sharks
 MegachasmidaeMegamouth shark
 12AlopiidaeThresher sharks
 13CetorhinidaeBasking shark
 14LamnidaeMackerel sharks
Order 8 Hexanchiformes Cow and frill sharks
Suborder Chlamydoselachoidei 
Family ChlamydoselachiidaeFrill shark
Suborder Echinorhinoidei 
Family 15HexanchidaeBramble sharks
Order 9 Squaliformes 
Suborder Echinorhinoidei 
Family 16EchinorhinidaeBramble sharks
Suborder Squaloidei 
Families 17SqualidaeDogfish sharks
 EtmopteridaeLantern sharks
 CentrophoridaeGulper sharks
 SomniosidaeSleeper sharks
 18OxynotidaeRough sharks
 DalatiidaeKitefin sharks
Order 10 Squatiniformes 
Family 19SquatinidaeAngel sharks
Order 11 Pristiophoriformes 
 Family PristiophoridaeSaw sharks
Order 12 RajiformesRays
Suborder Pristoidei 
Family 20PristidaeSawfishes
 Suborder Rhinoidei 
 Family RhinidaeSharkrays
 Suborder Rhychobatoidei 
 Family RhynchobatidaeWedgefishes
 Suborder TorpedinoideiElectric rays
Families 21TorpedinidaeTorpedo rays
 HypnidaeCoffin rays
 NarkidaeSleeper rays
 Suborder Rhinobatoidei 
Family 22RhinobatidaeGuitarfishes
 Suborder RajoideiSkates
 Families ArhynchobatidaeSoftnose skates
 23RajidaeHardnose skates
Suborder Platyrhinoidei
Family 24PlatyrhinidaeThornbacks
Suborder Zanobatoidei
 Family ZanobatidePanrays
 Suborder MyliobatoideiStingrays
 Family PlesiobatididaeDeepwater stingrays
 HexatrygonidaeSixgill stingrays
25DasyatidaeWhiptail stingrays
 UrolophidaeRound stingrays
 26GymnuridaeButterfly rays
 27MyliobatidaeEagle rays
 28RhinopteridaeCownose rays
 29MobulidaeDevil rays

2 The superscripts in this list refer to the chapters of this volume. Look at the start of each chapter to see an example of the respective elasmobranch family. Beautiful aren't they?

The FAO data base also refers to a grouping, the “Selachimorpha [Pleurotremata]” for a limited number of countries reporting landings from the NE Atlantic. Nelson (1975, 1984) notes that this term refers to “sharks” though in his 1994, 3rd edition (p. 43) he notes that it refers to “the sharks, and Batidoidimorpha, the rays”. For the purposes of the analyses here, the term “Selachimorpha [Pleurotremata]” is taken to mean the sharks, or more specifically, the Selachians or non-Batoid Elasmobranchs, and as such is equivalent to a superorder, referred to as “order” in the following analysis. The other member of this group appearing in the reported landing data was the Rajiformes.


3.1 Introduction

The Fishery Information, Data and Statistics Unit (FIDI) of FAO's Fisheries Department maintains a data base, Nominal Catches and Landings that contains the amounts of fish catches landed, and aquaculture output by country of production measured in tonnes. Weights are of the whole animal (i.e. live weight). The data base contains annual values for the period 1950 – 1996 and is organized into 250 countries or territories grouped by 27 major fishing areas (See Figure 1). More than 1000 species, or items, are contained in the list. The global fishery production data set is divided in to capture and aquaculture files and the relevant data are maintained by FIDI for the period 1984– 1996 in two separate data bases.

Figure 1

FAO fishing areas for statistical purposes

Figure 1

3.2 Reported or estimated landings data?

The fisheries statistics are usually obtained from national reporting offices and, wherever possible, verified from other sources. In cases where data are not reported or the data that are provided are considered to be unreliable, FIDI uses data provided by other sources (e.g. regional fisheries bodies, scientific projects, etc.). Where FIDI has no confidence in the reported data and no alternative information is available, as a last resort FIDI estimates landings based on the “best available information”. In the worst case, this involves obtaining estimates by extrapolating using data from other years.

Catch data for the period 1950 – 1969 have been extracted from the Fishery Year Books (this series started in 1947) where available. Because of the absence of data for some countries in early years of the period 1950 – 1969, the data for these countries have been estimated by extrapolating backwards. A subjective method was used based on the “best information available” so care should be taken in drawing inferences based on data for the period prior to 1970. It is possible, when querying the Nominal Catches and Landings data base to identify those data that have been estimated as they are stored with a “F” prefix. However, because of the high incidence of estimated data in the data base prior to 1970, none of these data are so marked and thus for this earlier period it is not possible to identify which data have been estimated and which data are those supplied by national authorities. Because part of the FAO data series for the period 1950 – 1969 has been obtained by extrapolation, and to avoid ambiquities arising from possible subjectivity in data estimates, no data prior to 1966 have been considered in this analysis.

As Table 1 shows, the relative and absolute amounts of estimated catch have declined by almost a third for the period 1976–1996. However, for some countries, all, or most, of the elasmobranch catch may be estimated (Table 2). One hundred percent of the elasmobranch landings were estimated by FIDI for fifteen countries; 62.4% of the Spanish elasmobranch landinds were estimated. Of these countries, elasmobranch landings have been estimated for the last 9 years in the case of Brazil and the last 3 years in the case of Spain.

Table 1

Estimated catches (tonnes) of elasmobranchs in the FAO data base
Total reported landings551 811634 234758 793
Landings estimated%9.81%8.48%6.62
Amount of reported   
landings estimated54 13353 78350 232

1 1996 is the most recent year for which data in the FAO data base are available.

Table 2

Countries whose elasmobranch landings were estimated and were over 1000t in 1996
CountryEstimated catch (t)
Brazil25 270
Spain8 310
Oman6 241
Morocco3 305
Kiribati1 840
Sierra Leone1 402
Mauritania1 090
Algeria1 060


4.1 Global practices

A variety of levels of aggregation of elasmobranch landings data occur in the reported information. Table 3 lists summary data concerning reported categories for the years 1966, 1976, 1986 and 1996 which are the decadal years for which data are examined in this report. For the last data year available, only 8.8% of the landings were identified to a species level, a 31.2% decline from a decade earlier. There has also been a considerable drop in the accumulated catch reported to at least the genus level, from 30.9% in 1966 to 18.4% in 1996. The decline in the last decade has been 30.3%. The general trend has been one of declining dissaggregation of the catches on a global basis of the catches dissaggregated at a more detailed level than that of Family.

Table 3

Aggregation of reported landings of elasmobranchs in the FAO data base
Species67 10015.874 52713.581 18412.866 5658.8
Genus64 04430.965 59525.486 24326.472 72018.4
Family39 77240.355 60335.554 12334.9105 34932.3
Order56 77953.788 25151.5116 06153.2174 86555.3
Subclass196 947100.0267 835100.02 966 231100.0339 294100.0
Total424 642 551 811 634 234 758 793 

4.2 Regional practices in aggregation/dissaggregation of reported landings data

Table 4 shows the results from a similar analysis broken down by region. It is apparent that there is wide variation in the levels of disaggregation amongst the regions. No landings are reported at the species level in 1996 from five regions (Atlantic West Central, Eastern Indian Ocean, North Eastern Pacific, Eastern Central Pacific, Western Central Pacific and the Southwestern Pacific). No landings are reported at the species or Genus level from the Eastern Central Pacific. Six of the regions show a decline in the percentage of landings disaggregated at the lowest level (i.e. species of genus), of which the most serious is that which occurred in the NE Atlantic where the amount of catch disaggregated to a species level declined from 53.4% in 1986 to 34.7% in 1986! Best performance in terms of disaggregation to at least the family level occurred in the Northwest Atlantic (93.2%), then Northeast Atlantic (83.5%), Northeast Pacific (69.2%), Mediterranean and Blank Sea (53.0%) and Southeast Pacific (50.3%). Worst performances were given by the Eastern Central Atlantic (1.0%), Eastern Indian Ocean (1.1%), Western Central Pacific (4.8%) and Northwest Pacific (12.8%).

Table 4

Disaggregation practices at the regional level
Region 1976 1986 1996 
NE AtlanticSpecies46 44251.648 15553.424 94034.7
Genus27 54130.624 76880.922 45765.9
Family1 6381.89 97192.012 62483.5
Order1900.03 3080.010 55283.5
Subclass14 155100.03 915100.01 337100.0
89 966 90 11797.871 910 
NW AtlanticSpecies4171.43181.11 3782.5
Genus11 83941.225 82888.523 15343.9
Family17 23199.22 92498.427 58593.2
Order237100.0484100.03 793100.0
29 724 29 554 55 921 
Med & Black SeaSpecies320.32501.01791.3
Genus5 28142.812 70654.26 13744.6
Family31145.344656.11 18753.0
Order4 76283.68 35191.14 07581.8
Subclass2 043100.02 133100.02 585100.0
12 429 23 886 14 163 
Atlantic E CentralSpecies00.000.0120.0
Order8 05325.14 34920.010 28240.0
Subclass24 093100.018 036100.015 783100.0
32 146 22 549 26 351 
Atlantic W CentralGenus81 51 1 208 
Family4 35937.511 41946.012 29639.8
Order1 09964.91 33151.46 65261.3
Subclass6 095100.012 035100.010 764100.0
 11 634100.024 836 30 920 
SE AtlanticSpecies00.063411.336611.2
Genus84033.71 33735.21 18047.4
Order12938.91 89069.025761.3
Subclass1 526100.01 732100.01 259100.0
 2 495 5 593 3 256 
SW AtlanticSpecies7 23224.28 48919.011 40116.9
Genus1 09427.978320.71 01418.4
Family1 46732.871722.370019.5
Order5 77552.28 02640.227 65460.5
Subclass14 267100.026 755100.026 605100.0
 29 835 44 770 67 374 
E Indian OceanGenus1 4924.71 4832.78101.1
Order7 15227.112 11224.514 79620.6
Subclass32 000100.041 880100.060 279100.0
 40 644 55 475 75 885 
W Indian OceanSpecies11 70012.611 70013.221 00014.6
Family22 34736.714 82329.935 89039.5
Order20 31858.614 75146.519 75753.2
Subclass38 289100.047 406100.067 508100.0
 92 654 88 680 144 155 
NE PacificSpecies3148.12 98344.12 80039.9
Family2 66077.02 33378.62 05369.2
Order87899.71 04094.02 14699.9
 3 862 6 757 7 009 
Pacific E CentralFamily4 55130.65 78124.06 23716.9
Order9331.257126.45 53331.9
Subclass10 248100.017 694100.025 178100.0
 14 892 24 046 36 948 
SE PacificSpecies5714.62 0467.34603.6
Genus9 85183.312 52652.15 65947.4
Family11684.21 76458.436950.3
Order1 30094.68 65389.43 80479.7
Subclass679100.02 954100.02 628100.0
 12 517 27 943 12 920 
NW PacificSpecies7 8197.86 6099.94 02912.8
Order17 62525.315 43133.19 25042.2
Subclass75 152100.044 390100.031 464100.0
 100 596 66 430 44 743 
Pacific WGenus4 1765.93 8483.57 2694.8
Order20 60434.934 74135.054 49240.6
Subclass46 279100.071 653100.090 371100.0
 71 059 110 242 152 132 
SW PacificGenus3 40046.22 74920.63 55923.6
Family92358.73 94550.26 21464.8
Order3659.21 00357.91 78776.7
Subclass2 999100.05 639100.03 511100.0
 7 358 13 336 15 071 

In the region of the greatest reported landings in 1996, the Western Central Pacific, no clear trend is evident at the species, or genus, level but at the level of family, there has been a slight increase in the amount disaggregated to this level in 1996 relative to 1976 and 1986. The decline in the performance in the NE Atlantic is striking and no region is marked by a clear increase in the degree of disaggregation of the reported landings data.

Table 5 gives an indication of regions by rank where disaggregation of the reported landings is better, and worse. At the species level, the Pacific Northeast ranks first, followed by the NE Atlantic. For cumulative disaggregation to the level of genus, the NE Atlantic ranks first, followed by the SE Pacific then SE Atlantic. When reported landings are cumulated to the Family level, the Northwest Atlantic ranks first, then the Northeast Atlantic followed by the Southwest Pacific. Certain areas clearly perform poorly, e.g. the East Central areas of the Atlantic and Pacific followed by the Atlantic Western Central, Eastern Indian Ocean and West Central Pacific.

Table 5

Summary of performance by rank in disaggregation of reported landings by FAO statistical region Numbers in columns indicate rank of performance (low number implies superior performance)
Atlantic, NE2124
Atlantic, NW-51-
Atlantic, East-Cent---8=
Atlantic, West-Cent-1078=
Med. and Black Sea-4-10
Atlantic, SE-3-1=
Atlantic, SW37812
Indian Ocean, West4-63
Indian Ocean, East-9-6
Pacific, NW5--7
Pacific, East-Cent---5
Pacific, SE6252
Pacific, NE1-411
Pacific, West-Cent-8-13
Pacific, SW-531=


Table 6 shows the rankings, in terms of their reported chondrichthyan landings, of the top 20 countries. These data show that of the top three countries - Indonesia, India3 and Pakistan, none reports landings in the FAO data base below the taxonomic level of order, and India provides no details at all of the chondrichthyan catch composition, reporting it all as ‘elasmobranchii’. The sixth ranked country, Japan, is the first to report any landings at a species level, 10.7% of their reported total landings.

The results in Table 6 may indicate that the information about species breakdown that is provided may be of little practical use. For example, in the case of Indonesia, the ‘Order’ category landings that are reported are Rajiformes, but taxonomically, Rajiformes are included within the Elasmobranchii. It is possible that what are reported as Elasmobranchii, are non-Rajiforme Elasmobranchii, i.e. selachians, primarily the sharks. The Philippines follows a similar practice. Likewise, Pakistan reports data disaggregated into only two groups, Rajiformes and only one family,

3 Note that the Cochin Marine Fisheries Research Institute report total “shark” landings of 34 750t for 1996 compared with the elasmobranch report of 71 072t in the FAO data base. It is unknown if skates and rays are included in the CMFRI figure.

the requiem sharks! Venezuela follow the same practice. Clearly, this can not represent what is actually being caught. The data reported by the United States is potentially similarly confusing as fish of the genus Raja could also occur in three of the four catch categories that they report - Rajidae, Rajiformes and Elasmobranchii. Spain also reports landings in only two categories - Raja spp. and Elasmobranchs, again the former may also occur in the latter category. Korea, in 1996, reported chondrichthyan landings only of Rajiformes!

Table 6

Disaggregation practices in reported landings of the major Chondrichthyan harvesting countries
Country Catch (t)Accumulative %
IndonesiaOrder36 40036.1
Subclass64 30063.9
 100 700 
IndiaSubclass71 072 
 71 0720.0
United StatesGenus13 89126.7
Family29 63857.0
Order4 8719.4
Subclass3 6437.0
 52 043 
PakistanFamily35 86969.7
Order15 56330.3
 51 432100.0
MexicoFamily11 02524.3
Order9 95421.9
Subclass24 43253.8
 45 411 
Taiwan Province of ChinaOrder2 4576.0
Subclass38 70394.0
 41 160 
JapanSpecies4 02910.7
Subclass33 26388.6
 37 530 
ArgentinaSpecies10 27133.9
Genus1 0143.4
Order16 72555.3
Subclass2 2557.5
 30 265 
Sri LankaSpecies21 00075.1
Subclass6 95424.9
 27 954 
BrazilSpecies1 1304.5
Order4 18016.5
Subclass19 26076.2
 25 270100.0
MalaysiaGenus8 07933.7
Order15 92866.3
 24 007 
FranceSpecies9 51243.1
 22 084 
United KingdomSpecies9 47644.4
Genus9 15742.9
Order2 0489.6
 21 335 
KoreaOrder14 69494.2
 15 605 
ThailandOrder10 40076.5
Subclass3 20023.5
 13 600 
Genus6 32747.5
Order6 75650.7
 13 314 
New ZealandGenus3 55929.3
Family6 21451.2
Order1 58213.0
 12 127 
MaldivesSubclass11 856 
 11 856 
Genus2 64628.6
Family2 31825.1
Order1 92020.8
Subclass2 36625.6
 9 253 
CanadaSpecies4 07546.0
Genus3 88643.8
 8 865 


6.1 In terms of total landings

There is no apparent pattern in the quality of the data reported by countries. Table 7 shows those countries that reported that greatest absolute amounts of chondrichthyans disaggregated by (1) species, (2) species or genus, and (3) species or genus or family. In terms of the greatest amount of landings reported as a single species in 1996, ranked first is Sri Lanka with 75.1%. But, FAO data bases reports landings of only species, Carcharhinus falciformis4. However, Amarasooriya and Dayaratne (1993), cited in Joseph (1998 - this volume)) report that 46 species of sharks occur in the landings of sharks in Sri Lanka, though some are rather rare. Joseph reports that for the years 1994/1995, C. falciformis represented 60.9% of the catch, the next most common species, Prionace glauca, comprised 12.3% of the sharks landed. Joseph cites Sri Lankan shark landings in 1995 of 26 134t compared to 21 400t of Carcharhinus falciformis reported in the FAO data base, plus 7077t of fishes classified as “Elasmobranchii”. Similar differences occurred in the statistics reported for other years. Argentina ranked second in terms of total chondrichthyans reported disaggregated to a species level - 33.9% of their landings, followed by France (43.1%), UK (44.4%) and Canada (46.0%). If landing reports are considered disaggregated to a species and/or genera level, the ‘results’ provided by Sri Lanka rank it still first, but the second (i.e. first) best performance is given by the UK (87.3% of chondrichthyan landings) then France (58.3%), Argentina (37.3%) and Malaysia (33.7%). When this comparison is extended to species and/or genera and/or family, the greatest amount so classified is by the United States (83.6%), then Pakistan (69.7%), Sri Lanka (75.1%), France (94.1%), Argentina (37.3%) and the U.K. (89.8%). However, the data provided by Pakistan also deserve comment. Only one family of sharks is reported as being landed - the Carcharinidae. Two families of batoids are reported as being landed, Pristidae and Rhinobatidae together with a higher group labelled Rajiformes. It is relevant that Bianchi (1985) reports the presence of 12 families of sharks and 13 families of batoids in Pakistan waters.

4 These figures are officially reported by Sri Lanka as “Sharks & Skates/Rays”.

Table 7

Countries reporting the greatest elasmobranch landings
CountrySpecies% of totalSpecies & generaSpecies- genera % of totalRank ref species & generaSpecies, genera & familyTotal catch% represen- ted by SGFRank ref species, genera & family
Sri Lanka21 00075.121 00075.1121 00027 95475.13
Argentina10 27133.911 28537.3511 28530 26537.316
France9 51243.112 87658.3420 78722 08494.114
United Kingdom9 47644.418 63387.3219 28721 33590.45
Canada4 07546.07 96189.877 9618 86589.810
Japan4 02910.74 02910.794 02937 53010.713
Brazil1 1304.51 1304.5111 830252707.214
Spain63.56 39048.086 5281331449.011
Portugal3.02 64928.6124 967925353.712
Malaysia00.08 07933.768 0792400733.79
New Zealand00.03 55929.3109 7731212780.68
Mexico-----11 0254541124.37
Pakistan-----35 8695143269.72
United States-----43 5295204383.61

Results are shown disaggregated by species; species or genus; species, genus or family.

Table 8 shows those countries with the worst record in disaggregation of reported landings of chondrichthyans in to groups. Worst performance in terms of amount of landings disaggregated is that given by India, followed by Indonesia, Taiwan Province of China, Japan, Mexico and Brazil. If disaggregation to the level of Subclass or Order is considered, Indonesia moves into top (i.e. worst) place followed by India, again Taiwan Province of China, Mexico, Japan and Brazil. If the consideration is of Subclass, Order or Family, third worst performance is now given by Mexico, then Taiwan Province of China, the United States and Japan.

6.2 Relative performance in disaggregated landings

Of the countries landing significant quantities of chondrichthyans, 100% of the reported landings by India, The Yemen, Uruguay and Costa Rica are aggregated into the subclass level (Elasmobranchii). In the case of countries reporting landings wholly aggregated into the Subclass and Order categories, Indonesia, Taiwan Province of China, The Maldives, Australia, Oman, The Philippines, Senegal and Nigeria join the list. When reported landings are aggregated to the Family level, Mexico, Pakistan, Korea, Venezuela and Morocco become included. At this level, the best performance amoung significant chondrichthyan fishing countries is the U.K. (12.7%) followed by Sri Lanka with 24.9% though it should be noted that the classification to species level is undertaken by FAO staff (M. Perotti, FIDI, pers, comm.)

6.3 Single group only reporting practices

As is apparent, many countries report chondrichthyan landings in only one taxonomic level. But this practice, as Table 9 shows, is not restricted to the higher taxons. Table 9 can be summarized as follows:

Number of countries reporting only at the level of:


Again, it is difficult to conceive, particularly as the higher taxon levels, that the reporting practices represent reality.

Table 8

Countries with the worst record in disaggregation of reported landings of chondrichthyans in to groups
CountrySubclass (t)Rank% in subclassSubclass & order (t)Rank%in sub- class & orderTotal subclass, order & familyRank% in subclass, order & familyTotal reported landings (t)
India71 0721100.071 0722100.071 0722100.071 072
Indonesia6 400263.9100 7001100.0100 7001100.0100 700
Taiwan (Prov.38 703394.041 1603100.041 1605100.041 160
of China)          
Japan33 263488.633 501589.333 501789.337 530
Mexico24 432553.834 386475.7454114100.045 411
Brazil19 260676.223 440692.824 140895.525 270
Maldives11 8567100.011 8568100.011 85613100.011 856
Australia7 106898.37 23111100.07 23118100.07 231
Sri Lanka6 954924.96 9541224.96 9541924.927 954
Oman5 7611092.36 24114100.06 24123100.06 241
Yemen4 87811100.04 87815100.04 87825100.04 878
Uruguay4 57812100.04 57816100.04 57826100.04 578
Philippines3 8391344.78 5959100.08 59516100.08 595
Senegal3 8031456.26 76513100.06 76521100.06 765
United States3 643157.08 5141016.438 152673.352 043
Thailand3 2001623.513 6007100.013 60012100.013 600
Nigeria2 7651766.44 16318100.04 16327100.04 163
Costa Rica2 49718100.02 49719100.02 49732100.02 497
Cuba2 4601972.02 4602072.02 4603372.03 415
Portugal2 3662025.64 2861746.36 6042271.49 253
Pakistan------51 4323100.051 432
Argentina------18 980962.730 265
Malaysia------15 9281066.324 007
Korea------15 60511100.015 605
France------9 2081441.722 084
Venezuela------8 79115100.08 791
New Zealand------8 5681770.712 127
Spain------6 9242052.013 314
Tanzania------5 08024100.05 080
Morocco------3 30528100.03 305
Chile------3 0102964.24 685
Peru------2 9903044.86 680
U.K.------2 7023112.721 335

Table 9

Countries reporting elasmobranch landings in only one group
Countries reporting at only 1 subclass leveltCountries reporting at only 1 order leveltCountries reporting at only 1 family leveltCountries reporting at only 1 genus leveltCountries reporting at only 1 special levelt
India71 072Mauritania1 090French Polynesia387Syrian Arab Republic50Guinea-Bissau12
Maldives11 856(Squaliformes) (Squalidae) (Mustelus spp.) (Sphryna lewini) 
Uruguay4 578Falkland Is. (Malvinus)498Mozambique21  Slovenia<0.5
Costa Rica2 497(Rajiformes) (Carcharinidae)   (Squalus acanthias) 
Kiribati1 840Honduras460Grenada4    
UAE1 569(Rajiformes) (Carcharinidae)     
Egypt1 242Panama170Qatar<0.5    
Trinidad & Tobago500(Rajiformes) (Carcharinidae)     
Hong Kong456Dominican Republic39      
Saudi Arabia398        
Congo, Dem Rep.373        
El Salvador308        
Côte d'Ivoire260        
Sao Tome247        
Equatorial Guinea216        
Cook Islands27        
Saint Lucia11        
Solomon Islands10        
Congo, Dem. Rep.<0.5        
American Samoa<0.5        


The countries listed in Table 10 reported chondrichthyan landings of only two types, (i) “Elasmobranchii” and (ii) “Rajiformes”, with the exception of Angola which reported Raja spp. and Eritrea that reported Rhinobatidae instead of Rajifomes. Many other countries also reported Elasmobranchii and Rajiformes, but other categories of Elasmobranchii were also reported as landed. Because, taxonomically, the Rajiformes form part of the Subclass Elasmobranchii, it is possible that it was intended that what were reported as Elasmobranchii were in fact the ‘sharks’, or Selachians. However, efforts should be made to ensure that there has not been double counting of Rajiformes, first at the Order level and then at the Subclass level.

Table 10

Countries reporting chondrichthyan landings in only two categories Elasmobranchii and Rajiformes
AustraliaLiberiaSierra Leone
CameroonMauritiusTaiwan Province of China


This report has used data specifically identified as pertaining to elasmobranchs. However much data are reported as fishes “not elsewhere indicated” (nei). Because of the low importance often given to elasmobranchs, it seems reasonable to expect that a significant amount of elasmobranchs, in terms of elasmobranch landings that are counted would be included in the nei category, the most aggregated level of catch reporting. Table 11 lists the top twenty countries in terms of landings of fish in the “nei” category taken from 119 countries in the sample. For example, Thailand reports 42.6% of its catch landings as undifferentiated in any way - 1 251 50lt. In terms of the percentage of catch reported as elasmobranchs, it ranks 81st. In terms of the relative amount of reported landings categorized as nei, it is 9th; the others fall off the table in terms of absolute amounts of catch reported in this category. Thus, it is reasonable to expect that much of the elasmobranchs taken by Thai fishing vessels is grouped in the nei category. The highest proportion of catch reported as nei, is returned by Hong Kong. This territory (as it was at the time) ranked 88th in terms of the percentage of the reported catch being elasmobranchs — so again, it would seem safe to conclude that much of the elasmobranchs were included in the nei category.


Reporting of aggregate levels of fish landings is obviously considered important, as is indicated to the headline treatment afforded to the announcements of successive annual total global landings. However, such information is of little practical use in providing information for preparation of fisheries management plans or the evaluation of fisheries on a fishery or stock basis — what should be the major purpose in collection of catch data. For this, detailed and accurate data are required of the species, genus, or even family level of the different major fishery groups on an appropriate geographical basis.

Table 11

Countries ranked by absolute reports of landings in “nei” category
CountryTotal reported landings (t)NEI (t)Elasmobranchs (t)NEI %Rank of NEI %Elasmobranchs %Rank of elasmo- branchs
Thailand2 934 6001 251 50113 60042.690.581
India2 840 919728 19471 07225.6172.538
Indonesia3 385 440393 000100 70011.6373.035
Malaysia1 126 689352 83824 00731.3132.147
Japan5 870 585292 61737 5305.0590.675
Mexico1 305 615249 57645 41119.1293.529
Brazil620 719197 99525 27031.9124.122
Korea, Rep.2 405 692183 80215 6057.6470.674
Canada860 947109 6398 86512.7361.068
Hong Kong183 85610126945655.110.288
Taiwan (Prov.of China)967 0767450941 1607.7464.319
Spain1 045 82470 34613 3146.7541.363
Sri Lanka210 25048 22127 95422.91913.31
Peru9 486 15845 9176 680.5890.198
Morocco636 29345 4103 3057.1520.579
Philippines1 606 24037 3838 5952.3770.5 
Italy349 76033 2124 9689.5431.459
New Zealand420 02629 41412 1277.0532.936
Venezuela429 47928 4788 7916.6562.050
United States4 967 32825 55352 043.5871.067

NEI = reported landings in the ‘not elsewhere indicated’ category.
Elasmo = Reported landings of elasmobranchs.
NEI % = Percentage nei is of total reported landings.
Elasmobranch % = Landings of elasmobranchs as a % of total landings. NEI covers reported landings that are not attributed to any group, family, genus or species.

While the performance of no country in supplying catch data on elasmobranchs approaches what should be possible, some countries are clearly committed to provision of detailed information to FAO regarding chondrichthyan landings. France, the U.K., Argentina and Canada are some examples of creditable reporting practices. However, a satisfactory standard of catch data reporting is clearly not happening in the majority of countries reporting catches of chondrichthyan fishes. Thus, while there are now major concerns about the conservation, species diversity and even potential local extinction of members of this class of fish, the quality of the reported landings int he best global data base is insufficient to confidently monitor or measure changes in taxonomic composition of the catch at an appropriate level.

It is clear that many countries collect and record chondrichthyan data at a disaggregated level from their national fisheries, but for some reason choose to aggregate the data before forwarding the data to the Fisheries Department of FAO. Australia and New Zealand, among others, appear to be examples of such a practice.

A tactical issue for some member countries is what is the ‘best’ practice regarding the level of disaggregation of reported landings that should be recorded. If data managers insist on a level of disaggregated reporting that requires identification of the catch to a level that is beyond the technical ability of the data recorders, or the fishermen completing log forms, e.g. in terms of their ability to correctly identify the species, genus or family, then the data may be incorrectly identified. This will causing subsequent errors by those who use the data on the basis that it is accurate. Clearly, accurate aggregated data are preferably to disaggregated data of unknown reliability. It is clear form the results described in this paper that many countries should audit the performance of those responsible for identification of the landings. And, it goes without saying, countries with non-functioning fisheries statistics systems who estimate the current landings based on the previous years data (which were in turn, derived from those of the previous year ad infinitum) should address the seriousness of reporting data that, at a minimum are useless and, possibly worse, are misleading to those unfamiliar with the actual national reporting practices.


I am grateful to Mr. Maurizio Perotti, FAO Fisheries Information, Data and Statistics Unit, for revising and correcting an earlier version of this report and Ms Sara Montanaro, of the same service for accessing the data bases for me.


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