A first milestone for the protection of the endangered shortfin mako shark in the North Atlantic was achieved.
Sharkproject International is an accredited observer to ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) and attended this year's Commission meeting with a particular interest in effective conservation measures for the threatened shortfin mako shark in the Atlantic. We had hoped that ICCAT would finally adopt the fishing ban on shortfin mako in the North Atlantic that has been called for for many years, in order to finally end its overfishing and initiate a rebuilding plan for this critically overfished stock. Even though we were not able to achieve a complete retention ban - because the EU is vehemently opposed to a complete ban on catches and landings and would have allowed an agreement to fail again - a decisive milestone victory was nevertheless achieved:
Two years of "retention ban" (2022 and 2023) and thereafter landing of a greatly reduced quantity will only be permitted at all if
- the total mortality in the North Atlantic, including all dead discards and a live discard mortality rate defined by the SCRS (ICCAT Scientific Committee), together with all potentially permitted landings, was less than 250 tonnes in the previous year!
- states reported all their catches, dead discards and live releases this year.
- there are no overruns from previous years that have yet to be "paid back" first.
- the catching nations then report the quantities landed to the ICCAT Secretariat on a monthly basis.
- Either a human observer is on board or an appropriate electronic system is in place to confirm that the animals retained on board were already dead when the lines were hauled in.
250 tonnes per year is still more than would be good for the fastest possible recovery of this stock in the North Atlantic, but SIGNIFICANTLY less than the 1,250 tonnes landed by the EU alone in 2020! The victory achieved is a compromise that we owe mainly to the tireless efforts of the sponsors of the original proposal for a retention ban, namely Great Britain, Canada, Gabon and Senegal. And to all those scientists and marine conservationists who had been tirelessly calling for a retention ban since 2017, for the Commission to finally listen to the recommendations of science and not the wishes of industry. This outcome is also historic because it is the first time ever that a rebuilding plan for an overfished shark species has been agreed in the Commission. And by setting the probability of achieving this rebuilding by 2070 at between 60% and 70%. Of course, we would have preferred to have a 70% probability of rebuilding now, which would have led to a maximum permissible total mortality of less than 100 tonnes, but that was the compromise we had to make, because unfortunately ICCAT only ever decides unanimously.
However, not everything went as hoped
For example, a proposal by 10 member states to finally introduce a "Fins Naturally Attached" obligation at ICCAT, as it has been in place in the UK, the EU, Canada, the USA and many other member states for many years, failed. The project failed again due to the refusal of Japan and China to commit to this requirement, which is recognised worldwide as the only effective measure to prevent shark finning at sea, in order to really end shark finning at sea.
And things also look bleak for blue sharks, as although the South Atlantic catch limit first agreed in 2019 has already been exceeded very significantly, by over 5,000 tonnes, in 2020, there will be no consequences for fishing nations and the next review of measures has been postponed until 2023. We are also disappointed that once again this year no action was agreed to end the overfishing of shortfin mako in the South Atlantic.
Mako shark © David Serradell
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