Last week, Oceana attended an international meeting on blue sharks that was held in Tenerife, Spain, by ICCAT (the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas). The meeting was the first of two for this year’s assessment of blue sharks in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea – the first ICCAT assessment that has been done for this species since 2008.
Sharks represent a significant part of ICCAT fisheries, accounting for 12% of catches reported to ICCAT in 2013, and blue sharks account for the majority of these catches. By far the most important shark species caught in ICCAT fisheries, and is the fourth most important commercial species by weight in ICCAT fisheries, after skipjack, yellowfin, and bigeye tunas. Valued for both its meat and fins, the fishery has been growing, with reported catches doubling during the last few decades.
Fished without limits
Over time, blue sharks have gone from being bycatch in Atlantic surface longline fisheries targeting mainly swordfish, to being an important target themselves. Yet management has not kept pace with the fishery. ICCAT has not adopted any specific management measures for blue sharks: no limits on how many can be caught, no minimum or maximum size limits, and no restrictions on when or where they can be fished.
Oceana believes that ICCAT should manage commercially fished sharks like any other commercial fishery should be managed – with management measures that are based on science, including precautionary catch limits. Stock assessments are a critical part of that management. Last week’s meeting was focused on preparing the data that are needed for the assessment: information about blue shark biology, catches, and fisheries. At the next meeting, in late July, Oceana will join shark scientists from ICCAT contracting parties, to see whether the data and scientific models can show us how blue sharks are doing, and what level of fishing is sustainable.