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1.1 Origin of IPOA-Sharks
1.2 The purpose of the IPOA-Sharks
1.3 Elements of IPOA-Sharks

1.1 Origin of IPOA-Sharks

There is widespread concern over the increase of shark fishing and the consequences which this has for the populations of some shark species in several areas of the world’s oceans. The prevailing view is that it is necessary to control directed shark fisheries and fisheries in which sharks constitute a significant bycatch.

Currently few countries manage their shark fisheries and there are no international management mechanisms actively addressing the capture of sharks; however, since initiation of the process to develop the International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA-Sharks), some regional bodies have begun encouraging member countries to collect information about sharks.

Noting the increased concern about expanding fisheries for sharks and the potential negative impacts on shark populations, CITES Resolution Conf. 9.17 requested the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to gather necessary information on sharks to develop and propose guidelines leading to a plan of action for the conservation and management of sharks. CITES Decision 10.126 confirmed FAO’s action. A proposal was subsequently developed at the 22nd Session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) during March 1997 that FAO organize an expert consultation, using extra-budgetary funds, to develop Guidelines leading to a Plan of Action. The Governments of Japan and the United States agreed to provide the extra-budgetary funds required and to collaborate with FAO in organizing such a consultation.

The IPOA-Sharks has subsequently been developed through the meeting of the Technical Working Group on the Conservation and Management of Sharks held in Tokyo during 23-27 April 1998, and the Consultation on Management of Fishing Capacity, Shark Fisheries and Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries held in Rome during 26-30 October 1998 and its preparatory meeting held in Rome during 22-24 July 1998.

The IPOA-Sharks consists of 31 paragraphs and 2 appendices endorsed by the member nations of COFI at the 26-30 October 1998 meeting. The IPOA-Sharks was subsequently endorsed 23rd Session of COFI in Rome during 15-19 February 1999.

1.2 The purpose of the IPOA-Sharks

The overall objective of the IPOA-Sharks is to ensure the conservation and management of sharks and their long-term sustainable use. There are three guiding principles associated with meeting this objective.

Participation. States that contribute to fishing mortality on a species or stock should participate in its management.

Sustaining stocks. Management and conservation strategies should aim to keep total fishing mortality for each stock within sustainable levels by applying the precautionary approach.

Nutritional and socio-economic considerations. Management and conservation objectives and strategies should recognize that in some low-income food-deficit regions and/or countries, shark catches are a traditional and important source of food, employment and/or income. Such catches should be managed on a sustainable basis to provide a continued source of food, employment and income to local communities.

The IPOA-Sharks is voluntary. It has been elaborated within the framework of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries as envisaged by Article 2 (d). The provisions of Article 3 of the Code of Conduct apply to the interpretation and application of the IPOA-Sharks and its relationship with other international instruments. All concerned States are encouraged to implement it.

The IPOA-Sharks and its appendices are appended to these Guidelines. The main text of the 31 ratified paragraphs of the IPOA-Sharks is presented as Appendix I, and its appendices are presented as Appendix II (Suggested Contents of a Shark Plan) and Appendix III (Suggested Contents of a Shark Assessment Report). Appendix IV presents a Classification of Shark Fisheries.

The IPOA-Sharks is not a full strategic plan for the world, rather it prescribes a process whereby individual States, relevant sub-regional arrangements through bilateral and multilateral agreements, and relevant regional fisheries management organizations (RFMO), identify national, sub-regional and regional issues and then appropriately develop national, sub-regional and regional ‘Shark Plans’ to address the issues. Each State and RFMO (an where required each sub-regional entity) should regularly carry out a regular assessment of the status of its shark stocks subjected to fishing so as to determine whether or not there is a need to develop a Shark Plan. Once at least every four years, States and RFMOs that implement a Shark Plan should assess its implementation for the purpose of identifying cost-effective strategies for increasing its effectiveness. Each State and each RFMO should strive to have its first Shark Plan prepared for the COFI Session scheduled for February 2001.

The present document ‘Technical Guidelines for Implementation of the International Plan of Action for Conservation and Management of Sharks’ provide technical guidance on the development and implementation of Shark Plans and for preparation of Shark Assessment Reports. In addition to preparing these guidelines, FAO, as part of its Regular Programme of activities, support States in the implementation of the IPOA-Sharks, including the preparation of Shark Plans and provision of in-country technical assistance. FAO will report biennially through COFI on progress of the implementation of the IPOA-Sharks.

1.3 Elements of IPOA-Sharks

For the purposes of this document, the term ‘shark’ is taken to include all species of sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras (Class Chondrichthyes), and the term ‘shark catch’ is taken to include directed (targeted), non-directed (non-targeted), bycatch (discards), commercial, recreational and other forms of taking sharks.

Four elements of the IPOA-Sharks include (a) the particular conservation needs of some shark and other chondrichthyan species, (b) the need for maintenance of biodiversity through viability of shark populations, (c) the need for habitat protection, and (d) the management requirements of shark fishery resources for sustainable use. These elements apply variously for different species and relate to the principles of ‘ecologically sustainable development’ and ‘inter-generation equity’ in that they should provide ongoing benefits to successive generations of humans.

Species conservation. Some species of shark need ‘special protection’ (or ‘special management’). This is because some species of shark have particularly low productivity, naturally small populations (rare), a spatially small distribution range, or a distribution range within regions of high anthropogenic impact where they might be threatened or have their populations severely depleted. Such species may need special protection through management action such as prohibition of their capture, prohibition of specific fishing gears, or closed areas to their capture or use of specific fishing gears.

Biodiversity maintenance. Biodiversity is the variety of living organisms in all their forms and defined in terms of genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem diversity and the interrelations between genes, species and ecosystems. The number of species and within-species genetic variability of shark and other chondrichthyan species is naturally low compared with those of many other taxonomic groups. The loss of species, the loss of individual populations within a species, or loss of genetic variation within a species or population, and consequential loss of ecological processes reduce biodiversity and benefits to human kind. Loss of biodiversity can be caused by increased mortality, loss or degradation of habitat, change of environment, and changes in competition with other species, resulting from the introduction of exotic or genetically altered species or from other ecological changes.

Habitat protection. Anthropogenic activity such as fishing, aquaculture, ecotourism, dredging, mining, catchment area clearing, dumping, nutrient enrichment, pollution, or introduction of exotic organisms can lead to broad-scale degradation of a species habitat range or loss of critical habitat such as nursery, pupping and mating areas or migration lanes of a species. Special habitat protection or habitat restoration programmes might be required where a species abundance or range has been reduced as a result of habitat loss.

Management for sustainable use. Sustainable use requires an understanding of the biophysical and ecological systems and requires maintaining stocks at, or restoring to, levels above those capable of producing maximum sustainable yields. The concept of sustainable catch has to be viewed within the constraints that ecosystems are in dynamic equilibrium and shift between different states depending on natural oscillations in the environment such as El Niño, on anthropogenic stress such as fishing and other activities impacting ecosystems, and, possibly, on climate change. Managing shark resources for sustainable use involves controlling fishing mortality through limiting fishing effort and/or catch and through biological controls such as legal minimum lengths, prescribed mesh-sizes or hook sizes of the fishing gear, closed seasons and closed areas.

Precautionary approach and IPOA-Sharks

The precautionary approach requires fisheries managers to be cautious when the state of a resource is uncertain, such as when fishery data are insufficient or unreliable. When faced with such uncertainty, managers are required to ensure that exploitation is conducted at a minimal level. The precautionary approach has been embodied in two important international initiatives: the 1995 United Nations Agreement on Straddling and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks and the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

The low productivity of shark stocks in general, the particularly low productivity of some species of shark, and naturally small population size or rarity of some species of shark implies that the precautionary approach is most applicable to this group of fishes. Their stocks can often be rapidly depleted to very levels and be slow to recover from the effects of overfishing. Controls should be implemented early during the developmental phases of fisheries taking sharks and other chondrichthyan species.

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