International Plan of Action for Conservation and Management of Sharks


Sharks and their relatives – the batoids and chimaeras – comprise the chondrichthyan fishes, a group of more than 1 100 species, of which more than 400 are sharks. Most of these species have slow rates of growth, late age-at-maturity and low fecundity compared with bony fishes. These life history parameters result in a limited ability to withstand fishing pressure and a longer recovery time in response to overfishing. Sustainable fisheries for sharks are possible, but have to be very closely managed with small yields compared to standing stocks. For centuries, fishers have conducted sustainable fisheries for sharks in coastal waters. The increase in effort and the expansion of the areas fished in the recent decades has led to concerns over the consequences for the populations of some shark species in several areas of the world's oceans. Many exploited species of sharks are declining and several have been protected by national legislations and international treaties due to their poor conservation status.

Sharks are harvested primarily for their meat, fins, skin, cartilage and liver. Shark meat is an important component of the diet in many developing countries. The meat of some species is also highly valued in some developed countries. Shark fins are the most valuable of shark products and are used to make traditional shark fin soup, a delicacy in the Chinese culture. In several countries in Asia and Oceania, shark skin is eaten after it has been boiled and the denticles removed. However, the greatest use for shark skin has been for leather. Shark cartilage is also used for food, but the biggest market is the pharmaceutical industry. Shark liver is mostly used to extract oils and other hydrocarbons, which have been used in a wide array of industries throughout history. Shark products are a highly traded commodity. The value of world trade in shark commodities approaches USD 1 billion per year.

Global shark catches reported to FAO have tripled since 1950 reaching an all-time high in 2000 with 868 000 tons. Since then, though, a downward trend can be observed with about 22% lower catches (680 000 tons) in 2018. While a simple explanation for the recent trends is not possible, there are a few general factors which - at varying degrees and in different combinations depending on the type of fishery and geographic region - may have contributed to this development. Firstly, shark conservation measures have been introduced in many national and regional fisheries management regimes (see below); if effectively implemented, these measures should lead to a reduction of shark fishing mortality and avoidance of unwanted shark by-catch with the result of decreasing catches. Secondly, in many cases the reduction in shark catches is unintentional and a consequence of the overall declining abundance of exploited sharks; this leads to reduced yields even though the fishing effort remains the same or even increases.

Source: FAO. 2020. Fishery and Aquaculture Statistics. Global capture production 1950-2018 (FishstatJ). In: FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department [online]. Rome. Updated 2020.