Endangered Atlantic shortfin mako sharks are set to take centre stage in the 2020 deliberations of the International Commission for Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), with Canada today proposing science-based catch limits that include a complete retention ban to protect the seriously overfished North Atlantic population. Negotiations kick off next week against a backdrop of COVID-19 related mako management delays, continued overfishing by European vessels, and exceptionally lenient and complex counterproposals from the United States and European Union.
“We applaud the Canadian government for continuing to lead the fight to protect one of the Atlantic’s most vulnerable and threatened sharks, the shortfin mako,” said Shannon Arnold, Marine Program Coordinator for Ecology Action Centre. “We now look to other ICCAT Parties across the Atlantic to lend their support to this sound and urgently needed proposal, and to prioritize its adoption in the coming weeks. Such action can finally put the exceptionally imperilled Atlantic mako populations on the road to sustainability and serve as a model for the rest of world.”
Shortfin makos are particularly valuable sharks, sought for meat, fins, and sport. Slow growth makes them exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing. Makos are fished by many nations around the globe yet not subject to international fishing quotas. ICCAT scientists have reported serious North Atlantic shortfin mako declines and have recommended a ban on retention, in addition to other measures, since 2017. COVID-19 has further delayed mako management but has not stopped mako overfishing. Recent landings by EU vessels alone are triple the levels associated with population rebuilding. Population recovery will likely take 50 years, even if mako fishing stops.
At the 2019 ICCAT meeting, Senegal and 14 other countries joined Canada in urging international adoption of scientific advice for makos. Counterproposals from the US and EU (that strayed significantly from scientific advice) prevented consensus.
“It is continually distressing that the EU and US, once shark conservation champions themselves, are the primary obstacles to addressing one of the world’s clearest and most solvable shark overfishing crises,” said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust. “Concerted action across the Atlantic is urgently needed to prevent the collapse of this highly migratory species. Yet the US and EU have been choosing the short-term economic interests of a few over those of a much broader array of stakeholders that rely on the long-term health of the marine ecosystem. The US insists on exceptions, including for intentionally killing this Endangered species, while the EU is still fighting to allow their unparalleled, unsustainable landings to continue. Instead, they can and should lessen future ecological and economic disruption by changing course and following Canada’s lead toward protecting these shared populations, before it’s too late.”
Global concern over mako shark depletion was recognized through a 2019 listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), as proposed by 27 countries and the EU. CITES Parties — including all ICCAT Parties — are required to ensure that mako exports are sourced from legal, sustainable fisheries.