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It is not possible to know accurately the total world catches of sharks but Bonfil[4] has estimated that sharks represent 60% of the world elasmobranch catch. In 1997 catches of identified sharks amounted to 181 900 tonnes, a slight decrease as compared to 203 100 tonnes in 1995 but a substantial growth with respect to 59 700 tonnes in 1950. Since 1950 “Elasmobranchii not identified” have more than doubled, from 137 400 tonnes to 373 200 tonnes in 1997. Requiem sharks (Carcharinidae) and dogfish represent the major shark groups caught, followed by smooth-hounds (Mustelus spp.). Of the identified species, the greatest volumes are reported for picked dogfish (Squalus acanthias), the silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis), and narrownose smooth-hound (Mustelus schmitti). However, this data shows traces of misleading identifications of species by countries. So, unfortunately, there are species reported from only a few of the countries that catch them.

Figure 2 Chondrichthyan catches by species in 1 000 tonnes, 1950-1997

Source: FAO - FIDI.

Among species that are usually targeted by directed fisheries are picked dogfish, smooth-hounds, shortfin mako shark, thresher shark, porbeagle, dusky shark, silky shark, sandbar shark, Oceanic whitetip shark, blue shark, whitetip reef shark, basking sharks and tope sharks.

Picked dogfish inhabits warm temperate to boreal waters throughout the world and is one of the most typical shark in Northern Atlantic. Fisheries for picked dogfish are quite significant, as this species is particularly appreciated in Europe, mainly in France and Germany. Its meat is marketed fresh, frozen, smoked, boiled-marinated, dried-salted, and in the form of fish cakes for human consumption. This species is also used for liver oil, fishmeal, pet food, fertilizer and leather. According to FAO data, catches of picked dogfish[5] have substantially increased, from 22 200 tonnes in 1950 to 44 100 tonnes in 1997, with a peak of 57 100 tonnes attained in 1987. US catches for picked dogfish have shown a huge growth in the last few years, from 5 800 tonnes in 1989 to more than 29 600 tonnes in 1996 when 57.3% of all picked dogfish catches were reported to be from the USA. In 1997 US catches were 21 000 tonnes, a 29.1% decrease as compared to 1996. According to FAO, in 1997 the largest proportion of picked dogfish catches was taken in the Northwest Atlantic followed by the Northeast Atlantic and Southwest Pacific. Limited catches occurred in the Northeast Pacific, western Central Atlantic and Mediterranean and Black Sea. In the last decennium, catches of picked dogfish in the Northeast Atlantic have declined considerably, from 43 900 tonnes in 1987 to 13 900 tonnes in 1997. During the same period catches in the Northwest Atlantic grew from 2 750 tonnes to 20 500 tonnes respectively. In the past this species was regarded as under-utilized by the USA and Canada and it became targeted as an alternative to the declining groundfish stocks by the USA, mainly for foreign markets. Nowadays, more than 90% of US exports of shark flesh consist of picked dogfish.

Shortfin mako shark inhabits warm temperate waters throughout all oceans. It is an important shark for fisheries because its meat is considered to be of the highest quality. Moreover, this species is also a prime game fish, prized by sport anglers. Its flesh is marketed fresh, frozen, smoked and dried salted for human consumption; the liver is processed for oil, the fins for shark fin soup; the hides are processed for leather and the jaws and teeth used for ornaments. They are often taken as bycatch and often only the carcasses of this species are retained due to the high prices of their meat. In 1997 their catches were 60 tonnes reported by New Zealand, the USA and Brazil.

Porbeagles are common in deep cold temperate waters of the North Atlantic, South Atlantic and South Pacific oceans[6]. Catches of porbeagles have been particularly important in the North Atlantic and in limited quantities in the Mediterranean. There are reports of catches of porbeagles since the early 1800s[7] by Scandinavian fishermen. Its meat is particularly appreciated and it is marketed fresh, frozen, and dried salted. Porbeagles are also processed for oil and fishmeal and their fins are used for shark fin soup. According to FAO data, the 1960s represent the peak period for the porbeagle catch with the great bulk of catches coming from the Northwest Atlantic by Norway and the Faeroe Islands. In 1964 catches of porbeagles amounted to 9 400 tonnes. The rest of the catch has been taken in the Northeast Atlantic mainly by Norway, France and Denmark plus limited volumes in the Mediterranean by Malta. In the following years the catch of this species has declined considerably and in 1997 they were 1 740 tonnes. In the last three years Canada has became the leading fishing country for porbeagles with a little over 1 300 tonnes in 1997.

Silky sharks are commonly taken as bycatch in swordfish and tuna fisheries and there are significant fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea but data on their catches is scarce. Only Sri Lanka reported catches for this species to FAO from the western Indian Ocean. Also, dusky sharks are taken as bycatch, and they are important species for coastal shark fisheries for both flesh and fins. Yet only South Africa and the USA reported scanty captures of this species to FAO from the western Indian Ocean and Northwest Atlantic, respectively. The meat of dusky and silky sharks is used fresh, frozen, dried, salted, and smoked for human consumption; hides are processed for leather; fins for shark fin soup and liver oil is extracted for vitamins.

Sandbar shark play an important role in the fisheries of the western North Atlantic, eastern North Atlantic, Western Australia and South China Sea as its flesh and large fins are particularly appreciated and considered of a very high quality. Its flesh is used fresh, frozen, smoked and dried salted for human consumption; the hides are processed for leather and other products; the fins for shark fin soup; and the oil is extracted from its liver. Only the USA has reported small catches of this species to FAO during the years 1988-95.

The basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) is the second largest fish in the world after the whale shark. Basking sharks live near the coast and often “bask” on the surface and so are susceptible to harpoon fisheries. There are reports of catches of basking sharks since the earliest times, off the Norwegian coast, Ireland and Scotland, Iceland, California, Peru, Ecuador, China, and Japan. Its commercial importance has always been especially for its liver, heavy with oil, as the liver may amount to 10 to 25% of the body weight. Liver oil is the only part that has been used for centuries, and in the past it was used for lamp oil and in the mid-twentieth century as a source of vitamin A. The advent of the low-cost, synthetic vitamin A in the 1950s ended some of these fisheries. Nowadays, fisheries also target basking sharks for their huge fins and they are fished in Norway for export to Japan (27 000kg in 1994). Catches of basking shark have been reported to FAO by Norway, France, New Zealand and Portugal. Norwegian catches peaked at 18 700 tonnes in 1970 and have declined considerably since 1976. In the early 1990s they grew again to nearly 3 700 tonnes to drop to a bit more than 580 tonnes in 1997. Catches of Portugal, France and New Zealand have been rather scanty.

Fisheries for tope sharks occur in particular off Uruguay, Argentina, California, and southern Australia. Its flesh is marketed fresh, frozen, and dried salted; its liver is processed into oil, particularly rich in Vitamin A; and its fins for shark fin soup. Nowadays, there are concerns about the status of their stocks that seem to show signs of depletion off California, Brazil and Argentina. There are documented decreases in their stocks due to heavy exploitation in the 1940s off California. This species has been heavily exploited also off Australia and New Zealand. Management policies for tope sharks exist in Australia and fisheries in Australia and New Zealand have been restricted or have collapsed due to findings of high mercury levels in specimens caught there. New Zealand’s catches for tope sharks were particularly sustained in the early 1980s, peaking at 4 950 tonnes in 1984. Since then they declined and were 2 860 tonnes in 1997. France also captured tope sharks, mainly for export to Italy. This catch peaked at 1 700 tonnes in 1983 and has declined subsequently. This decrease was mainly due to findings of high mercury levels and rejection by the Italian market of imports of this species. In 1997 catches of tope sharks were more than 3 300 tonnes and have been reported to FAO by the UK, Denmark and New Zealand, with this latter as the major producer.

Blue shark occurs in tropical, subtropical and temperate waters all over the world and represents one of the major species caught as bycatch. It is usually finned and discarded due to the low value of its meat. Another reason for discarding it is its high urea content which confers a strong taste and odour of ammonia to its flesh. In order to be used for human consumption the meat of blue sharks has to be promptly and correctly processed otherwise, if their carcasses are put on the boats near other more valuable species of fish, such as tuna and swordfish, there is a risk of contaminating them. Their fins have a low market value but they are usually retained as the large quantities of blue sharks caught make up for their low price. Data on discards and landings of blue sharks are scarce. Bonfil[8] estimated the world bycatch of blue sharks in drift-net and longline high sea fisheries at 6.2-6.5 million fish per year for the level of effort found in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Blue sharks are marketed in the form of fresh, frozen, smoked and dried salted meat; fins are used for shark fin soup; their hides are processed into leather and they are also used for fishmeal and liver oil. In 1997 catches of blue sharks were 520 tonnes and were reported to FAO by France, New Zealand, Denmark and Brazil.

[4 ]BONFIL R., idem.
[5 ]US catches reported to FAO as dogfish sharks nei have been summed up to those of picked dogfish according to the 18th Northeast Regional Stock Assessment Workshop (NEFSC 1994).
[6] CASTRO J.I, , WOODLEY C.M and BRUDEK R.L. “A preliminary evaluation of the status of shark species”, FAO Fisheries Technical Paper 380, 1999.
[7 ]GAULD J.A., “Records of porbeagles landed in Scotland, with observations on the biology, distribution and exploitation of the species”, Scottish Fisheries Research Report 45. Dept. Ag., Edinburgh, Scotland: 1-15, 1989.
[8 ]BONFIL R., idem.

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