This week marks the launch of Shark Advocates International, a new, non-profit initiative dedicated to conserving some of the ocean’s most vulnerable, valuable, and neglected animals – the sharks.
Built on long-term experience and focused expertise, Shark Advocates International (SAI) is poised to be a leader in the battle to protect sharks from overfishing and finning (slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea).
“Sharks are among the oceans’ most vulnerable animals and, now -- more than ever -- they need our help,” said Shark Advocates International President, Sonja Fordham, who brings nearly 20 years of shark conservation experience to the new post. “After decades of steady progress, recent months have brought serious setbacks in international shark conservation. Starting immediately, Shark Advocates International will fight to reignite and accelerate progress toward effective shark safeguards.”
The decade from 1995 to 2005 saw the adoption of an United Nations International Plan of Action (IPOA) for Sharks, the first protections for sharks under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and the adoption of international finning bans covering most of the globe. Recently, however, progress on the international shark policy front has been disrupted. None of the eight shark species proposed for CITES listing gained such protections by the end of the March 2010 Conference of CITES Parties. Just months before, the International Commission for Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) failed to set catch limits on overfished mako sharks or to close loopholes in the ICCAT finning ban, as proposed by several countries. A new global shark agreement under the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) offers hope, but has yet to be implemented.
Most sharks are exceptionally susceptible to overfishing due to slow growth, late maturity, and small numbers of young. Lack of shark fishing limits in the face of strong demand for shark fins, meat and liver oil has resulted in serious declines in shark populations around the world. Given that most sharks are top predators, shark depletion can negatively affect entire marine ecosystems.
SAI aims to collaborate with other interest groups, scientists, and governments, to secure international, as well as national and regional policy advances, including:
International fishing limits for sharks and rays
Full protection for particularly threatened species
Stronger finning bans at the US, EU, and international levels
Continued recovery for US Atlantic species, such as spiny dogfish and dusky sharks
EU fishing limits on oceanic shark species, such as makos and threshers
Management for developing fisheries for blue sharks, smooth dogfish, and cownose rays
Listings for commercially valuable sharks under CITES,
Regional shark conservation plans, as per CMS and the Shark IPOA
“Shark conservation is at a critical juncture and great advances are within our reach,” added Fordham. “While key shark protections have been denied, awareness of the shark’s plight has never been higher. Our team will mobilize diverse coalitions and brave tough policy arenas to defend sound policies and help secure a brighter future for these remarkable animals.”