Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page





1. For centuries artisanal fishermen have conducted fishing for sharks sustainably in coastal waters, and some still do. However, during recent decades modern technology in combination with access to distant markets have an increase in effort and yield of shark catches, as well as an expansion of the areas fished.

2. There is concern over the increase of shark catches and the consequences this has for the populations of some shark species in several areas of the world’s oceans. This is because sharks often have a close stock-recruitment relationship, long recovery times in response to over-fishing (low biological productivity because of late sexual maturity; few off-spring, albeit with low natural mortality) and complex spatial structures (size/sex segregation and seasonal migration).

3. The current state of knowledge of sharks and the practices employed in shark fisheries cause problems in the conservation and management of sharks due to lack of available catch, effort, landings and trade data, as well as limited information on the biological parameters of many species and their identification. In order to improve knowledge on the state of shark stocks and facilitate the collection of the necessary information, adequate funds are required for research and management.

4. The prevailing view is that it is necessary to better manage directed shark catches and certain multispecies fisheries in which sharks constitute a significant bycatch. In some cases the need for management may be urgent.

5. A few countries have specific management plans for their shark catches and their plans include control of access, technical measures including strategies for reduction of shark bycatches and support for full use of sharks. However, given the wide-ranging distribution of sharks, including on the high seas, and the long migration of many species, it is increasingly important to have international cooperation and coordination of shark management plans. At the present time there are few international management mechanisms effectively addressing the capture of sharks.

6. The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, the Sub-regional Fisheries Commission of West African States, the Latin American Organization for Fishery Development, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna and the Oceanic Fisheries Programme of the Pacific Community have initiated efforts encouraging member countries to collect information about sharks, and in some cases developed regional databases for the purpose of stock assessment.

7. Noting the increased concern about the expanding catches of sharks and their potential negative impacts on shark populations, a proposal was made at the Twenty-second Session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) in March 1997 that FAO organize an expert consultation, using extra-budgetary funds, to develop Guidelines leading to a Plan of Action to be submitted at the next Session of the Committee aimed at improved conservation and management of sharks.

8. This International Plan of Action for Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA-Sharks) has been developed through the meeting of the Technical Working Group on the Conservation and Management of Sharks in Tokyo from 23 to 27 April 19984 and the Consultation on Management of Fishing Capacity, Shark Fisheries and Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries held in Rome from 26 to 30 October 1998 and its preparatory meeting held in Rome from 22 to 24 July 1998.

9. The IPOA-Sharks consists of the nature and scope, principles, objective and procedures for implementation (including attachments) specified in this document.

Nature and Scope
10. 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 this document and its relationship with other international instruments. All concerned States6 are encouraged to implement it.

11. For the purposes of this document, the term “shark” is taken to include all species of sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras (Class Chondrichtyes), and the term “shark catch” is taken to include directed, bycatch, commercial, recreational and other forms of taking sharks.

12. The IPOA-Sharks encompasses both target and non-target catches.

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

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

15. 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.

16. The objective of the IPOA-Sharks is to ensure the conservation and management of sharks and their long-term sustainable use.
17. The IPOA-Sharks applies to States in the waters of which sharks are caught by their own or foreign vessels and to States the vessels of which catch sharks on the high seas.

18. States should adopt a national plan of action for conservation and management of shark stocks (Shark Plan) if their vessels conduct directed fisheries for sharks or if their vessels regularly catch sharks in non-directed fisheries. Suggested contents of the Shark Plan are found in Appendix A. When developing a Shark Plan, experience of sub-regional and regional fisheries management organizations should be taken into account, as appropriate.

19. Each State is responsible for developing, implementing and monitoring its Shark Plan.

20. States should strive to have a Shark Plan by the COFI Session in 2001.

21. States should carry out a regular assessment of the status of shark stocks subject to fishing so as to determine if there is a need for development of a Shark Plan. This assessment should be guided by article 6.13 of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. The assessment should be reported as a part of each relevant State’s Shark Plan. Suggested contents of a shark assessment report are found in Appendix B. The assessment would necessitate consistent collection of data, including inter alia commercial data and data leading to improved species identification and, ultimately, the establishment of abundance indices. Data collected by States should, where appropriate, be made available to, and discussed within the framework of, relevant sub-regional and regional fisheries organizations and FAO. International collaboration on data collection and data sharing systems for stock assessments is particularly important in relation to transboundary, straddling, highly migratory and high seas shark stocks.

22. The Shark Plan should aim to:

23. States which implement the Shark Plan should regularly, at least every four years, assess its implementation for the purpose of identifying cost-effective strategies for increasing its effectiveness.

24. States which determine that a Shark Plan is not necessary should review that decision on a regular basis taking into account changes in their fisheries, but as a minimum, data on catches, landings and trade should be collected.

25. States, within the framework of their respective competencies and consistent with international law, should strive to cooperate through regional and sub-regional fisheries organizations or arrangements, and other forms of cooperation, with a view to ensuring the sustainability of shark stocks, including, where appropriate, the development of sub-regional or regional Shark Plans.

26. Where transboundary, straddling, highly migratory and high seas stocks of sharks are exploited by two or more States, the States concerned should strive to ensure effective conservation and management of the stocks.

27. States should strive to collaborate through FAO and through international arrangements in research, training and the production of information and educational material.

28. States should report on the progress of the assessment, development and implementation of their Shark Plans as part of their biennial reporting to FAO on the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

Role of FAO
29. FAO will as, and to the extent directed by its Conference, and as part of its Regular Programme activities, support States in the implementation of the IPOA-Sharks, including the preparation of Shark Plans.

30. FAO will, as and to the extent directed by its Conference, support development and implementation of Shark Plans through specific, in-country technical assistance projects with Regular Programme funds and by use of extra-budgetary funds made available to the Organization for this purpose. FAO will provide a list of experts and a mechanism of technical assistance to countries in connection with development of Shark Plans.

31. FAO will, through COFI, report biennially on the state of progress in the implementation of the IPOA-Sharks.



When managing fisheries for sharks, it is important to consider that the state of knowledge of sharks and the practices employed in shark catches may cause problems in the conservation and management of sharks, in particular:

Content of a Shark Plan

The Technical Guidelines on the Conservation and Management of Sharks, under development by FAO, provide technical guidance, both on the development and the implementation of the Shark Plan. Guidance will be provided on:

The Shark Plan should contain:

A. Description of the prevailing state of:

B. The objective of the Shark Plan

C. Strategies for achieving objectives. The following are illustrative examples of what could be included:


A shark assessment report should inter alia contain the following information:

Fishing effort: directed and non-directed fisheries; all types of fisheries; and
Yield: physical and economic.

Control of access to fishing grounds;

Technical measures (including bycatch reduction measures, the existence of sanctuaries and closed); and

Monitoring, control and surveillance.


Coastal hook and gillnet fisheries: In any region, the methods of fishing depend on topography of the fishing grounds and the available species mix of both sharks and teleosts. In regions of broad continental shelf much of the artisan catch is taken by bottom-set gillnets, mostly constructed of monofilament webbing with some constructed of multifilament webbing, and bottom-set longlines. These take a wide variety of shark species and teleost species. In regions of narrow continental shelves, where deep waters off the continental shelf are readily accessible, or, in regions of broader continental shelves, the artisanal fleet use surface-set longlines and driftnets to target pelagic sharks.

Demersal trawl bycatch fisheries: Demersal trawl fisheries are impacting stocks of dogfishes (Squalidae), angel sharks (Squatina spp.), batoids and chimaeras. As in the high seas fisheries, much of the trawl bycatch of sharks and batoids is discarded dead and often not reported. Fishery-independent surveys in several parts of the world show these groups have exhibited marked declines in abundance.

Deepwater bycatch fisheries: Like many of the teleost species studied from the deeper and colder waters of the continental slopes, the deepwater dogfishes (notably genera such as Centrophorus, Centroscymnus, Etmopterus, Dalatias, and Deania) are likely to have particularly low productivity. The continental slopes are usually steep and the total area of associated seabed is small compared with the areas on top of the continental shelves and on the abyssal plains of the oceans. As some species of dogfish are confined to limited depth-ranges on these slopes, the total areas occupied by some of these species is small. Expansion of demersal trawl fisheries into progressively deeper water to target high valued teleosts on the continental slopes in some regions of the world is placing several species at high risk of severe depletion. Already demersal trawling of the abyssal plain at depths exceeding 1000 m. Some of the catch is targeted or is bycatch taken by gillnets and hooks.

Pelagic shark bycatch fisheries. Longline, purse seine and driftnet fisheries targeting tunas and tuna-like species on the high seas and in the Exclusive Economic Zones through bilateral access agreements take large bycatches. Although most nations have no requirement to record shark catch or to provide a species breakdown of the catch from these fisheries, research cruises and observer programmes on-board longline vessels indicate blue shark (Prionace glauca) is the main species caught. Other species caught widely in lower quantities include Isurus oxyrinchus, Alopias supercilious, Carcharhinus longimanus, and Lamna nasus.

Freshwater fisheries: Some of the most threatened species of sharks are those occurring in freshwater habitats. There are several reasons why these species are more vulnerable than those inhabiting marine waters. The amount of freshwater in rivers and lakes is small compared with the amount of seawater on Earth. The tropical rivers and lakes where freshwater species occur are mostly in developing countries with large and expanding human populations. These areas are much more accessible to exploitation than marine waters. Freshwater habitats are also less stable than marine habitats in terms of water temperature, dissolved oxygen, clarity and water flow, and these factors are gradually being changed through deforestation. Contamination of the water with toxicants from mining and agriculture, physical modifications to the waterways through dam construction and irrigation, and inevitable changes to the flora and fauna in freshwater habitats are likely to alter them beyond the tolerance of some shark species. At least three species of ‘river shark’ are now extremely rare. The Ganges shark (Glyphis gangeticus) is known only from the Ganges-Hooghly River system of the Indian subcontinent, although it is possible that more than one species of the genus Glyphis occurs in the region of Borneo, northern Australia and New Guinea.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page