Conservation & Management
The following summary is extracted from the following publication: click on the image to download a pdf.
Compiled by George H. Burgess with Merry Camhi, Sonja V. Fordham, John A. Musick, Ramón Bonfil, Steven Branstetter, Christine Chan A Shing, Leo Walter Gonzales and Thomas Hoff
The IUCN/SSC SSG Northwest Atlantic (NWA) region extends from the eastern coast of Greenland at 40°W longitude to 120°W in the Arctic waters north of Canada and southwards to the French Guiana-Brazil border at 5°N latitude. This region fully overlaps the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Major Fishing Areas 21 and 31 and part of 18 to the north. It includes part of the eastern coast of Greenland and the eastern coasts of Canada, the USA, Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana, as well as all waters of the Caribbean island nations.
The region ranges from Arctic, subarctic and boreal waters off Canada and Greenland to temperate and tropical waters at the southern boundary. In the Caribbean area, marine habitats vary from coral reef formations and narrow shelves to habitats heavily influenced by freshwater runoff with wide continental shelves and muddy bottoms (Chan A Shing 1999).
This regional report draws on the best information available from the published literature, the FAO, and unpublished catch and fisheries data and management information from government and non-governmental sources, primarily from the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Canada’s Department of Fisheries (DFO), Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago. The quality and quantity of fisheries data vary greatly within the region, with the most detailed and reliable information coming from the US and Canada, the two countries that actively manage their Atlantic shark fisheries. Much of the information regarding catches and management in the lesser studied countries of the NWA region was derived from a summary paper by Chan A Shing (1999), the US NMFS United Nations Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) discussion paper (Oliver 1996), a review of shark trade in the Americas (Rose 1998) and the FAO database providing overall landings statistics (FAO 2002).
During the early 1990s, elasmobranch catches from the Northwest Atlantic (FAO Area 21) were considered to be among the fastest growing in the world (Bonfil 1994). Elasmobranchs are taken in directed fisheries primarily in the US, Canada and to some extent in Mexico (Rose 1998), and are also taken as bycatch in other fisheries, such as on the pelagic longlines targeting swordfish and tuna and trawl fisheries for shrimp and demersal fishes. As a result, the US, Canada and Mexico rank among the top 20 elasmobranch-fishing nations in the world. Other circum-Caribbean countries have small bycatch fisheries: much of the elasmobranch catch by the artisanal fisheries is consumed within the region (often salt-dried), but a number of products (e.g. fins and cartilage) are exported or transhipped by foreign vessels using local ports (Chan A Shing 1999). In the Caribbean, most countries neither land nor use elasmobranchs, however, elasmobranchs are landed in the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago (Chan A Shing 1999).
Over the decade 1990–2000, annual elasmobranch landings by 23 fishing nations in the NWA region were just below 100,000t/year (FAO 2002) (this includes landings from all oceans by these nations). The region includes three of the world’s top 20 elasmobranch-fishing nations: Mexico, the US and Canada, which ranked sixth, eighth and twenty-second in 2000 (FAO 2002) in total elasmobranch landings. In 2000, total elasmobranch landings summed over all NWA countries were about 95,890t (again from all oceans), or about 11.2% of the world total that year. However, elasmobranch landings of NWA fishing nations from western Atlantic and Caribbean waters only are considerably lower, totalling 47,382t in 2000.
Elasmobranch fisheries in the northern part of the region (i.e. off Canada and the US) are subject to more management attention than any other elasmobranch fisheries in the world, with the exception of some Australian and New Zealand fisheries. Despite these management efforts (see below), many of the commercially valuable species in the region are considered to be overexploited or suffering from fishing rates that are unsustainable. In the southern part of the region (i.e. Caribbean nations), management of elasmobranch fisheries is virtually non¬existent.
Management and conservation
Many shark and batoid populations in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean are declining as a result of overfishing and habitat loss. No elasmobranch fisheries in federal waters anywhere in the region were subject to management prior to the 1990s. At present, comprehensive fishery management for sharks and batoids exists only in the US and Canada. Canada implemented its first fishery management plan (FMP) for Atlantic sharks (porbeagle, blue and shortfin mako sharks) in 1994, and amended and expanded the plan in 1997 (DFO 1997a). Regulations for skate fisheries in Canada’s Atlantic waters were first introduced in 1995; skates are now included in the 1997 Groundfish Management Plan (DFO 1997b).
In the US Atlantic, sharks were first subject to federal management in 1993 (NMFS 1993). A new FMP called the Final Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Tunas, Swordfish and Sharks was released in 1999 (NMFS 1999) and is in the process of being amended and implemented. A separate FMP to manage fisheries taking spiny dogfish S. acanthias in US federal waters was first implemented in 2000 (MAFMC 1999), and a related interstate FMP for spiny dogfish taken in state waters (0–3 miles from shore) was slated for final approval and implementation by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in late 2002 (ASMFC 2002). A first FMP for seven species of Atlantic skates in US federal waters was developed under the purview of the New England Fishery Management Council and adopted by NMFS in 2003 (NEFMC 2003). These will be discussed more fully in the country accounts that follow.
A set of National Standard Rules for Shark Exploitation and Conservation in Mexican waters was published in the Mexican Federal Gazette on 12 July 2002 (Castillo-Geniz, pers. comm.). The resolution, which was called NORMA Oficial Mexicana NOM 029-PESC-2000, was not implemented but was being redrafted to include more conservation provisions at the time of writing. No other country in the region has a management plan or shark-specific regulations. However, in the early 1990s, the Bahamas banned longline fishing (lines with more than 10 hooks are prohibited) in domestic waters, in large part out of concern for the high mortality of sharks killed on the longlines.
The USA is the only elasmobranch-fishing nation in the NWA region that has produced a National Plan of Action (NPOA) in accordance with FAO’s International Plan of Action for Sharks (IPOA-Sharks (FAO 2000b). The US, Canada and Costa Rica are the only nations in the region that have formal bans on the practice of shark finning, although enforcement in Costa Rica is lacking. Under these bans, fins may be landed in these countries but only if they do not exceed 5% of the dressed weight of carcasses landed.
For developing nations in the region, lack of basic fisheries data as well as insufficient management capacity are major obstacles to shark assessment and conservation. Even the most developed countries in the region (US and Canada) have failed to heed scientific advice or take action sufficient to avoid shark and batoid depletion. Despite these countries’ wealth, capacity and stated commitment to the precautionary approach, serious overfishing and bycatch of sharks and batoids persist with few exceptions, and key habitats, such as nursery grounds, remain largely unprotected. Management efforts in the US and Canada are welcome steps in stemming the tide of overfishing, but further restrictions are required. Unregulated Mexican shark fisheries and excessive Canadian dogfish quotas are of particular concern to the US as these may target shared stocks that are being addressed by US management. In other areas of the Northwest Atlantic, many elasmobranch populations are probably fully fished or overfished, but scientific and management initiatives are sorely lacking.
As in other parts of the world, there are no regulations, management plans, or treaties governing shark fishing in international waters of the western Atlantic, where large numbers of pelagic sharks are taken incidentally on longlines targeting tunas and swordfishes. Many of the nations fishing these waters have no regulations for the take or finning of sharks. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) oversees international management for longline fisheries targeting tuna and swordfish in the Atlantic. Though ICCAT has no mandate to regulate the take of sharks, concerns over growing shark bycatch led ICCAT to establish a Sub-Committee on Bycatch to collect and collate species-specific data on shark bycatch by member nations. At the time of writing a meeting of ICCAT scientists was planned for 2004 to conduct assessments for blue and shortfin mako sharks.