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Cleaning sharks before bringing them to market
Cleaning sharks before bringing them to market

In recent decades, modern technology - combined with access to distant markets - have caused an increase in fishing effort and catches of shark, as well as an expansion of the areas fished. Consequently, there is now concern about the rise in shark catches and the results this has for some shark species populations in several areas of the world's oceans. Sharks often have a low stock-recruitment relationship and long stock recovery times when overfished due to their late sexual maturity, low fecundity, albeit with low natural mortality, and complex spatial structures (size/sex segregation and seasonal migration).

The current state of knowledge of sharks and the practices employed in shark fisheries in many areas is causing problems for their conservation and management 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. Further, 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.

There is a need to improve the management of directed shark fisheries and certain multispecies fisheries in which sharks constitute a significant bycatch.

Some countries have specific management plans for their shark catches, which include control of access, regulatory measures, shark bycatch reduction and requirements for full utilization of shark carcasses. But the wide-ranging distribution of sharks, which includes the high seas, and the long migration of many species, make it important to have international cooperation and coordination of shark management plans. At present, few international management mechanisms effectively address the problems arising from the capture of sharks.

International Plan of Action

In order to improve the conservation and management of sharks, the FAO Committee on Fisheries adopted a voluntary International Plan of Action (IPOA-SHARKS) in 1999, within the framework of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

Principles of the IPOA

States that contribute to fishing mortality on a species or stock should participate in its management. Management and conservation strategies should aim to keep total fishing mortality for each stock within sustainable levels by applying the precautionary approach. 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.

Implementation of the IPOA

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. 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. Each State is responsible for developing, implementing and monitoring its Shark-plan. The Shark-plan should aim at achieving the following:

  • Ensure that shark catches from directed and non-directed fisheries are sustainable;
  • Assess threats to shark populations, determine and protect critical habitats and implement harvesting strategies consistent with the principles of biological sustainability and rational long-term economic use;
  • Identify, and provide special attention to, vulnerable or threatened shark stocks;
  • Improve and develop frameworks for establishing and co-ordinating effective consultation involving all stakeholders in research, management and educational initiatives within, and between, States;
  • Minimize incidental catches of sharks that are not used;
  • Contribute to the protection of biodiversity and ecosystem structure and function;
  • Minimize waste and discards from shark catches in accordance with article 7.2.2.(g) of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (for example, requiring the use of sharks whose fins have been removed);
  • Facilitate improved species-specific catch and landings data and monitoring of shark catches;
  • Facilitate the identification and reporting of species-specific biological and trade data.
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