Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans, is seeking protections for sharks and swordfish at the 22nd Regular Meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which begins today in Istanbul, Turkey. Without immediate action, Oceana believes that international demand and illegal fishing threaten the existence of these top ocean predators.
Oceana is calling on ICCAT, which is composed of 48 fishing countries of the Atlantic Ocean, to adopt the following actions to protect sharks : 1) prohibit the retention of endangered or particularly vulnerable shark species, including porbeagle and silky sharks; 2) establish science-based precautionary catch limits for blue and shortfin mako sharks; 3) require reporting of catch data as a prerequisite for landing a particular shark species; and 4) improve the current ICCAT finning measure by requiring that sharks be landed with their fins wholly or partially attached in a natural manner.
“It’s time for meaningful ICCAT action to protect sharks,” said Elizabeth Griffin Wilson, senior manager of marine wildlife at Oceana. “Most shark species in the Atlantic are highly vulnerable because of their exceptionally low reproductive rates, yet lack any form of international protection. As key species are targeted for their valuable fins, we risk emptying the oceans of a vital top predator and greatly changing the oceans as we know them today.”
Oceana is also calling on ICCAT to address overfishing of swordfish in the Mediterranean Sea. This stock remains completely unmanaged despite ICCAT’s knowledge that overfishing has occurred for years and between 50 to 70 percent of the catches are of juvenile fish that have never reached reproductive age. Oceana believes that in order to preserve this species, a comprehensive management plan is needed that is science-based and includes catch limits, restricts access to surface longliners, requires a minimum landing size and contains enforcement provisions.
“Chronic illegal fishing and lack of management in the Mediterranean is transforming the basin into an empty sea,” said Maria Jose Cornax, fisheries campaign manager for Oceana Europe. “Without immediate action, Mediterranean swordfish and other important ICCAT species will soon face the same situation that continues to plague bluefin tuna.”
Bycatch is also a large problem in ICCAT fisheries. Each year, numerous vulnerable species, including sea turtles, marine mammals and sea birds, are caught as bycatch in these fisheries. Oceana is also calling on ICCAT to establish a system that requires these catches to be reported, assesses the impact of the fisheries on these species and creates mitigation measures to reduce their capture.