SSG Strategic Plan
The IUCN SSG and the Save Our Seas Foundation are hosting a symposium at the International Marine Conservation Congress in May in Victoria, BC (http://www.conbio.org/imcc2011/) with the lofty goal of Securing the Conservation of Sharks, Rays and Chimaeras by creating a Strategic Plan. To achieve this, we are bringing together a range of representatives from different organizations to discuss what we need to do and where we need to target our efforts.
We have also contacted a wide range of other organisations and individuals and asked for input in the form of their top three Actions that could improve the management and conservation of sharks, rays and chimaeras.
The Actions received so far are presented below.
Peter Kyne, Charles Darwin University
1. Improve observer coverage on commercial vessels that take shark directly or as bycatch, which coupled with species identification education (this is key), can provide some of the basic data required for stock assessment and analysing trends.
2. Educate young consumers against consuming shark fin soup (some success is being had in Asia at present, but demand remains high, so novel approaches may be required).
3. Fund and undertake basic taxonomic work with the aim of describing/defining species and accurately documenting their distributions. To understand what there is that we need to manage/conserve is the most basic of management requirements.
Colin Simpfendorfer, James Cook University
1. Limit the upper size of sharks caught. This can be achieved by imposing maximum size limits or using gear that is size selective. This ensures that the breeding stock, which in species where stock and recruitment are closely related, are protected. This has been a successful strategy used in the gummy shark fishery in southern Australia.
2. Ensure that fins remain attached until shark are landed. This helps with identifying the catch and limits the practice of finning.
3. Collect life history data (age, growth, reproduction) on the sharks caught and use that the help improve management. Understanding how the population works can inform management actions that can improve sustainability.
Alexey Orlov, Region: Russia, Northwest Pacific
1. Research on basic features of fisheries biology that are needed for sustainable exploitation of elasmobranch stocks, i.e. age and growth, natural and fisheries mortality, size-age structure, demography, reproductive cycle (size and age at maturity, litter size, periodicity of breeding, etc.), stock structure, etc.
2. Monitoring of elasmobranch bycatch at the species level. There are no direct fisheries for sharks and skates within Russian Northwest Pacific but they are common bycatch in various fisheries. Fisheries statistics and TACs now provide 2 categories: "sharks" and "skates". There is a need to monitor bycatch of spiny dogfish and salmon shark in salmon driftnet fisheries, of Pacific sleeper shark and skates in bottom trawl fisheries and all elasmobranch species in longline and gillnet fisheries.
3. Taxonomic efforts are needed to eliminate current uncertainties regarding status of some skate and ray species, particularly Bathyraja.
Murray Rudd, University of York
1. Calculate the non-use economic value - the existence value - of shark species regionally and worldwide. Many sharks are icon species and their conservation likely provides very substantial economic benefits to citizens worldwide that are not currently captured in any discussion of the costs and benefits of shark fishing or in shark conservation efforts. These values would be one component of larger cost-benefit analyses of shark management and conservation. Practically, this would require a series (perhaps 6?) strategically chosen valuation studies, testing of benefit transferability, and the subsequent scaling up of those primary results using benefits transfer to estimate regional or global existence value - not a trivial effort but certainly technically feasible and implementable in a fairly short time horizon.
2. Calculate the producer surplus of shark fishing for various important fleets. Producer surplus is another important component of the cost-benefit calculus for shark management and conservation. Often fishing enterprise benefits are presented in terms of economic activity - 'it is a $20 million fishery at risk' for example - whereas the important issue economically is how profitable they are (e.g., if it costs the fleet $18 million to fish, the real economic benefit is only $2 million, not $20). Proper calculation of producer surplus using cost and earnings studies for major fleets could help shed light on the production economics of shark fishing and improve overall cost-benefit analyses of management and conservation initiatives.
3. Assess the transaction costs of managing and governing shark fisheries. Traditional cost-benefit analyses do not necessarily consider the costs of managing fisheries but, instead, often focus only on private sector costs and benefits. The transaction costs of management include a variety of factors that are usually absorbed within government operations or by volunteers (e.g., volunteer monitoring efforts), including planning, negotiations, consultations, management time, monitoring, prosecution costs, legal costs, and the costs associated with strategic behaviour. From a societal perspective, management-intensive fisheries management and conservation efforts could result in marginally profitable fisheries being a net drain on society - essentially a form of subsidization of private sector fishing operations at society's expense.
Michel Kaiser, Bangor University
1. Educate Asian consumers of shark fin about the important role played by sharks in marine ecosystems such that they understand the implications of eating high trophic level species such as shark and how large biomass removal of these species has important potential trophic cascade consequences.
2. Cultivate an international consensus on eliminating IUU fisheries in general, but specifically those that target sharks. Create a 'black list' of vessels and flag states of convenience. Impose appropriate sanctions on nations concerned and similarly impose sanctions on countries that do not enforce such regulations on their borders. Closing the door on shark fin products is the most effective method to eliminate this trade.
3. Implement large-scale marine reserves for the purpose of conserving sharks and develop an ecosystem health indicator that is related to shark population status at an RFMO level. Linking sharks directly to an indicator will hopefully trigger more direct and appropriate management actions.
Leah Biery, University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre, Vancouver, Canada
1. Introduce legislation that requires fishermen to land sharks with fins attached, and eliminate existing loopholes. Due to their large body size and the rigidity of their fins, intact shark carcasses are difficult to store on board vessels, so this type of law would make it difficult for fishermen to harvest large numbers of sharks. Such measures, in combination with sufficient monitoring and enforcement, would discourage the practice of finning, simplify catch data collection, and lead to more efficient use of the sharks that are caught.
2. Take steps to change the way people think about sharks. Sharks have a bad reputation as fearsome, dangerous creatures with the ability to attack us, which is detrimental to shark conservation efforts. People are simply unenthusiastic about protecting species that they perceive as harmful. In reality, only 6 humans were killed by sharks last year, while humans killed somewhere between 26 - 73 million sharks. We need campaigns and educational programs to help people realize that sharks are fascinating, ecologically important creatures that are much more vulnerable to our actions than we are to theirs. If more people understood that sharks are threatened animals, on roughly the same level as more charismatic sea turtles and polar bears, I believe they would be more supportive of conservation initiatives and legislation to protect sharks.
3. Reduce the demand for shark fins by discouraging the consumption of shark fin soup among target audiences and introducing legislation to ban the possession, sale, and trade of fins. Although shark fin soup is a status symbol deeply rooted tradition in Chinese culture, younger generations have been remarkably receptive to recent NGO efforts to reduce the dish's popularity at weddings and celebrations. It seems that many shark fin consumers are unaware of the industry's detrimental effects on shark populations, but when they are enlightened, they are quick to re-think including shark fin soup on their wedding menus. Campaigns to decrease the desirability of shark fin soup are a step in the right direction, but nothing can surpass the effectiveness of legislation. In addition to public awareness programs, we need to work towards making the unnecessary consumption of not only sharks, but all threatened species, illegal.
Charles Sheppard, Warwick University, UK
1. Implement more large MPAs which include complete no-take regulations. Oceanic MPAs (especially beyond immediate coastal waters but still within territories waters) lag hopelessly behind targets and behind coastal and terrestrial equivalents.
2. Recognise that various existing measures such as port state controls, quotas, landing inspections etc are commonly ignored (we know that) but that these are commonly used by various bodies as demonstrating (inaccurately) that 'something is being done'. In the Indian Ocean, a high proportion of countries cannot be relied on for such actions. Thus, downgrade the emphasis placed on this as an effective measure. (That is not the same as saying downgrade existing controls! They are clearly useful measures in some places.)
3. Make fining illegal throughout. Many smaller poaching ships are capacity limited so can catch far more if only fins are retained in their hold.
Charlie Huveneers, SARDI & Flinders University
1. Re-assess the priorities of the institutions managing chondrichthyan stocks. Currently, large emphasis is directed towards economically important species rather than ecologically important species or species of conservation concern. There should be a framework ensuring that resources to improve sustainability of stocks are balanced and also allocated to species of low economic value.
2. In relation to the above point, there is also a need to develop and apply quantitative methods to assess the non-commercial value of sharks. Although a few estimates of the value of sharks contributing to shark diving tourism has been calculated, the ecological value of sharks should also be estimated using a quantitative approach comparable to the commercial value used by fisheries.
3. A lack of information about a species is not equivalent to the species not being at risk of being impacted by anthropogenic effects. There is a need to collect basic biological and ecological information about the lesser known species to ensure that the data necessary to assess anthropogenic impacts is available.
Aurelie Cosandey Godin, Dalhousie University/ Industrial Graduate Fellow, WWF-Canada
1. One voice, one research, one network: Develop a global network of researchers engaged in a ten-year initiative with multiple partnerships and sponsors to secure funding, with clear scientific goals to achieve the long-term conservation of the world's chondrichthyans. A lot of great research and conservation projects are being initiated worldwide, however with a growing number of threatened shark species, our current efforts appear to be too disconnected and disparate. There is a need for joint power and centralized efforts where it is most required. A global network with a steering committee will help guide the priorities, and advise specific research and outreach initiatives.
2. Prohibit the retention of species at risk: State, subregional and regional fisheries management organizations and arrangements (RFMO/As), and other relevant international organizations should prohibit retention of any shark species listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable (the “threatened” category) until sustainable levels of harvest can be determined through peer-reviewed stock assessments.
3. Eliminate bycatch of sharks: Consistent with the new FAO international guidelines on bycatch management and reduction of discards, all fishing entities should seek binding measures to eliminate, to the extent possible, shark bycatch and discard mortality through spatial and/or temporal measures and modification of fishing gear and practices.
1. Require all countries importing and exporting shark fins to enumerate the quantities under separate customs codes for dried and frozen processed and unprocessed fins. Our inability to track the trade in shark fins under the current coding system severely limits our potential to understand the magnitude of the trade and to identify those countries which are most actively engaged. As fisheries data on sharks is poor, trade data may currently be the best way to assess exploitation levels. The establishment of customs codes would have to occur on a national basis but global pressure should be applied through the World Customs Organization or an international instrument such as CMS. Alternatively, receiving countries could require imports to be declared using a shark fin-specific code before they will accept shipments.
2. Stop calling sharks bycatch. Sharks are targets in many fisheries and usually desirable catch except in a handful of locations where there are strict regulatory limits on their take and strict enforcement on those limits. When sharks are only discussed in international forums devoted to bycatch (e.g. the Kobe forums), the focus is diverted away from management toward bycatch avoidance. This is only useful in fisheries where the fishermen truly do not want to catch sharks. Unlike sea birds and sea turtles, management rather than mitigation is the key concept for sharks as long as they remain targets (acknowledged or not) and this needs to be fully understood before progress can be made.
3. Create a system with penalties that requires RFMO members to report their shark catches. In some RFMOs reporting shark catches is a requirement but members who fail to report face no penalties. In other RFMOs reporting of shark catches is not required but should be made mandatory. All reporting should be to the species level to facilitate species-specific assessment of impacts.
Stephen Turnbull, Canadian Shark Conservation Society
1. Education is key. Conservation comes not only from research. Many people still have misconceptions about sharks and shark products such as shark fin soup and shark cartilage. Children are the key here and a concerted effort should be made to spread the word about the plight of sharks to this cohort of people.
2. 100% observe coverage on commercial fishing vessels that take sharks either as by-catch or directed fishery. Efforts should be concentrating on reducing by-catch (smart hooks) and developing standardized release practices to ensure high post-release survival.
3. Better stock assessments are needed for shark species that are commercially fished and more research is needed on unknown shark species before they are targeted by fishing fleets (as in the case of European fishing efforts destroying deep sea sharks currently).
1. Research and implement appropriate protocols for successful release of sharks taken in purse seine and longline fisheries. Research should identify realistic handling options for commercial fisheries and measure survival success using tagging methodology paired with quantification of various handling methods and various assays of the conditions of the animals before they are released. Some of this type of work has been previously conducted but it needs to be expanded and especially tailored to the normal working conditions on commercial vessels.
1. Better collaboration between scientists who can reveal the failures of fisheries management to conserve sharks (and resulting impacts on ecosystems, fisheries etc.), and NGOs who can use the findings to create political change. The formation of a platform to address this is perhaps something the IUCN Shark Specialist Group could lead on.
2. Produce an economic study to quantify the present and future demand for shark fin in Asia as a driver of global shark fisheries, and in particular the overfishing of shark populations. Shark fin traders in Asia frequently claim sharks are targeted for meat, not fin and as such that the shark fin trade does not contribute to illegal and unsustainable fishing.
3. Produce a cheap portable test kit that can be used to quickly identify the species of shark from dried (and preferably processed) fin alone, at least for species commonly found in the shark fin trade. A lack of transparency in the shark fin trade is a major obstacle to making links from shark fisheries to markets, and fundamental difficulties in identifying fins to species level is a major obstacle to the development of a sustainable trade.
Bineesh Kinattumkara, Society for Marine Research and Conservation (SMRC)
1. Basic research on taxonomical aspect is needed to document the diversity of chondrichthyans incorporating the molecular barcoding technique. Many families and species complex need revisions such as Carcharhinidae, Centrophoridae, Triakidae, Dasyatidae etc.
2. Adequate funding support and expertise are needed to undertake fishery biology of commonly landed elasmobranchs species including age & growth, natural and fishing mortality, maturity stages, litter size, breeding pattern etc. Monitoring elasmobranchs landings including deepwater forms at the species level. There is a urgent need to monitor the by-catch species of deep-sea shrimp trawl fisheries. Many small sized species like Iago, Eridacnis, Halalurus, Torpedo etc were common in deep-sea shrimp fishery and are often discarded back to the sea.
3. Conducting coastal zone location specific awareness programs involving the different stakeholders in the conservation and sustainable management of elasmobranchs. Evolving long term action plan for the conservation and management of the resources involving primary stakeholder community which will ensure the sustainable management.
Edgardo E. Di Giácomo, CONDROS San Matías Gulf. South West Atlantic
As the increasing demand for shark fins seems to be the driver for over exploitation of sharks worldwide, reducing consumer demand for shark fin soup is a logical step towards shark conservation. However, this is complex and a large scale undertaking that would require discussion at numerous international forums.
1.To specify the catch of rays and sharks species in fishing operations.The rate of decrease of capture of item "rays" or “sharks” tell us nothing about changes in interspecific abundance variations of its components.
2. Conducting research surveys to estimate abundance levels of Chondrichthyes. Complement this action by reviewing historical data from trawl surveys targeting teleost species to reconstruct the historical abundance of species of Chondrichthyes captured as by-catch.
It is common in fisheries research that investigation effort is directed to the target species (object) and collect information on other species not with the detail of the target species. Chondrichthyes species should be monitored from plans or specific research projects that include the abundance estimate and its monitoring. There is a wealth of information on life history characteristics, reproductive parameters and length-weight relationships of the species, however there is insufficient information on population structure, delimitation of distribution areas and trends in abundance and catches.
3. Identify sensitive areas and estimate the impact of fishing on them. Propose measures for exclusion of fishing on those areas.
The list of Chondrichthyes in the IUCN Red List in a category of endangered species does not guarantee the cessation of fishing on them but it should serve for obtaining funds from international and national agencies to assess the fishing impact on Chondrichthyes species whose ranges overlap vertically or horizontally with the activity range of the fishing fleet.
Allison Perry, Oceana (Europe)
1. At national and international (i.e., RFMO) levels, establish science-based, precautionary catch limits for commercially fished species (e.g., blue sharks, shortfinmakos) and prohibit the targeting, retention, landing, or trade of species that have been recognised as threatened by the IUCN.
2. Require countries and RFMOs to collect species-specific data on catches, landings, and discards (and status when discarded). Similarly, require countries to record trade at the species level, under species-specific codes (rather than under aggregated codes that mask species-level trends).
3. Identify and protect areas of essential habitat for chondrichthyans (e.g., breeding and nursery grounds), particularly for threatened species.
1. Educational campaign on sustainable marine resource use in Mainland China with a focus on resources of regional interest, including shark fin. This should include suggestions of alternatives to shark fin in shark fin soup and general education on limits to marine resources and consequences of losing them. Better understanding of shark issue, for example, can help build an appreciation of biological and ecological sustainability generally in natural marine resource use.
2. Work towards implementation of CITES Appendix II formarine species in China. Currently Mainland China has not implemented CITES Appendix II for any commercially important marine species. This has important implications for several sharks and other marine species and will becoming increasingly an issue if/when more commercial marine species are listed on CITES Appendix II.
3. Work towards removing subsidies on fisheries globally. This would be a major step towards reducing fishing effort in general which should have positive impacts on both direct and indirect take of sharks (among many other species).