Endangered species

Vital protections for endangered mako shark blocked at ICCAT

written by Oceanographic Staff

The European Union and the United States – despite long promoting science-based shark conservation – have once again acted as the main obstacles to urgently needed protections for the mako shark through annual negotiations of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).

Canada, Senegal, and – in their first official act as an independent ICCAT Party – the United Kingdom proposed a ban on retention of seriously overfished North Atlantic shortfin makos, as ICCAT scientists have long advised. The EU and US, however, have refused to give up on exceptions for continuing to land the endangered species.

Mako shark Atlantic fisheries

“North Atlantic mako depletion remains among the world’s most pressing shark conservation crises, yet the EU and US put short-term fishing interests above all else and ruined a golden opportunity for agreeing a clear and simple remedy,” said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust. “The repeated obstruction of vital, science-based protections allows top mako fishing countries – Spain, Morocco, and Portugal – to continue to fish these endangered sharks, essentially without limit, and drive valuable populations toward collapse.”

The shortfin mako shark is sought for meat, fins, and sport. Slow growth makes them extremely vulnerable to overfishing. Makos are fished by many nations around the world yet are not subject to international fishing quotas. The EU, Morocco, Canada, US, and Senegal (respectively) were the highest ranking ICCAT Parties for North Atlantic shortfin mako landings in 2019. Spain is responsible for more mako landings than any other country in the world. In April 2020, Canada became the only North Atlantic country to unilaterally ban shortfin mako retention, as scientists have advised.

“The Shark League is intently focused on making the next round of ICCAT mako negotiations in July the one that finally results in the protections that makos and their ecosystem so urgently need,” said Shannon Arnold, Senior Marine Program Coordinator for Ecology Action Centre. “Canada, Senegal, and the UK are today’s emerging shark champions. We urge all ICCAT Parties to follow their lead, before it’s too late.”

Scientists have warned that the South Atlantic shortfin mako shark is on a similar path. Canada, Senegal, and the UK included a science-based catch limit for this population in their proposal. 

The day after signalling that ICCAT mako negotiations were at an impasse and would need to resume next year, the Chair of the Committee responsible for shark conservation announced that the matter is not yet closed and welcomed additional input from ICCAT Parties.

Photography by Shawn Heinrichs.

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