If international commercial fisheries have no solid idea what regional shark stocks look like, how do we begin the process of evaluating effective conservation initiatives and sustainable fisheries?
The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) has taken a major step toward addressing concerns about shark populations with initial approval of a three-year Shark Research Plan by its Scientific Committee.
The plan will be led by the Oceanic Fisheries Programme of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, and will contain assessment, research coordination and fishery statistics improvement components. The overall aim of the plan is to evaluate the status of blue, mako, oceanic whitetip, silky and thresher sharks in the western and central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) and to establish better datasets to support future assessments. Following its recent endorsement by the Scientific Committee, the Shark Research Plan will be presented for full Commission approval at its annual meeting in Hawaii in December.
This article outlines the background and context of shark issues in the WCPO, introduces the key species and previews the forthcoming assessment work.
Sharks are among the species to be managed by regional tuna fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) but little has been done worldwide by these organisations to manage shark catches. In fact, because so few national fisheries catch reporting systems record sharks, RFMOs often lack sufficient data upon which to draw conclusions about the status of shark stocks. At the same time, there are increasing concerns about fisheries targeting sharks and about continued growth in the shark fin trade. In the WCPO, two species of sharks are categorised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as globally endangered and another sixteen as globally vulnerable and it is not difficult to predict that catch limits may, in future, be required to safeguard some stocks. The current challenge facing the WCPFC is to find the proper balance between shark conservation and utilisation, given the considerable uncertainty regarding the current status of stocks.
Complete Research Plan.