Over 135 species of sharks and rays can be found in European waters, but one-third of these are currently threatened with extinction, according to the IUCN Red List. These extraordinary and highly evolved animals have been roaming our waters for over 400 million years, but in just the past 30 man, the ultimate predator, has brought some populations to the brink of extinction. These are among the issues presented today by Oceana in a report entitled “The Beauty of the Beast”. This report, along with an accompanying “Guide to Europea Elasmobrances”, was presented today in a press conference held on the Oceana Ranger catamaran in Port Vell, Barcelona (Spain).
The title “The Beauty of the Beast”, seemingly a contradiction in terms, is meant to highlight the complex issue of improving shark management despite negative public images. Sharks are among the great unknowns of the oceans, and Oceana has published this report to inform a wide public audience, from students to politicians to concerned citizens, of the history, beauty, ecological importance and vulnerability of these animals so often thought of as simple killing machines.
The report highlights the fact that sharks’ complex biological characteristics, which has allowed them to survive over the millennia, are exactly what make them so vulnerable today as many populations cannot keep up with high rates of fisheries exploitation. “Sharks are successful designs of nature,” explained Rebecca Greenberg, marine scientist from Oceana Europe. “They have survived numerous extinction events to evolve into highly developed and efficient animals. But today, many species are threatened with extinction and we must act to protect them,” continued Greenberg.
Sharks live in every marine environment, from warm coastal coral reefs to the cold dark depths of the oceans. Many are top predators that are important in maintaining the health and stability of marine communities. Removing these animals can destabilize food webs and have widespread negative ecological impacts, as already seen in some parts of the world. The principal threat to sharks’ survival is overfishing, and in many fisheries catches are not limited or regulated as they are for other fish species. Over 200 million sharks and rays are caught every year. The European Union is the second shark-catching nation in the world, with Spain taking the overwhelming majority of the catch. In fact, Spain is an international leader in the trade of shark fins, which are destined to Asian markets for the preparation of shark fin soup.
An accompanying report also being released, called a “Guide to European Elasmobranches”, gives an overview of the seven groups of sharks and rays (the group of fish known as “elasmobranches”) that are found in European waters. For each fish, readers can find out about their habitat preferences, geographical range, conservation status and management measure in place. Illustrations accompany in-depth descriptions of the most important or emblematic European species.
Oceana is working to achieved improved fisheries management and conservation measures for shark and ray species in Europe. Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana Europe states, “Shark conservation is hampered by a general lack of political will, gaps in scientific knowledge and negative public images.” To turn this situation around, Oceana campaigns for legislative reform in fisheries management and for greater protection of threatened species. Also important is increasing the public’s awareness of sharks and rays and changing the common negative perceptions surrounding them. “This is a main goal of these reports,” Pastor concluded, “Achieving this, along with gaining improved fisheries management and conservation, are the most straightforward ways to protect Europe’s magnificent elasmobranches.”
Access to report The Beauty of the Beast
Access to report Guide to European Elasmobranches