World's oceanic sharks and rays decline by 71% in the last 50 years

By : Humane Society International January 29, 2021

Overfishing has driven the global abundance of oceanic sharks and rays to decline by nearly three-quarters (71%) in the past 50 years, says a global study published today in Nature.

With endangered sharks, including the scalloped hammerhead, still being legally consumed in Australia, the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) and Humane Society International (HSI) say the global study highlights the critical need for improved protections for endangered fish and better fishing practices.

Since the 1970s, the global catch in oceanic sharks and rays has increased three-fold, with a dramatic rise in the 1990s to meet growing international demands for meat, fins, and gill plates.

Although many of Australia's populations of sharks and rays fare better than in many other parts of the world, the bar is set perilously low with the latest study highlighting serious problems that exist in Australia's backyard.

Lawrence Chlebeck, marine biologist with HSI said, "Even within international conservation agreements, Australia has room for improvement. One of the species examined in the study, the smooth hammerhead, was listed last year on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) and Australia was the only country to take a reservation, meaning this species would not be protected from commercial exploitation under Australian law. Our organisations have asked Australia to withdraw the reservation. 

Improvement can and must come from multiple directions if we are to stop the precipitous decline in shark species.  Our own national environmental law, the EPBC Act, must be improved to end the catching, selling and consumption of endangered sharks and rays and give them the protection they need. We must support global shark and ray conservation initiatives in ways fitting of Australia's desired position as a global conservation leader,” said Mr Chlebeck.

Of the 31 oceanic shark and ray species examined in the study, the risk of extinction has increased substantially since 1980 with half now either Critically Endangered (3 species) or Endangered (13 species)¹ on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Included under "Endangered” are the pelagic thresher (Alopias pelagicus) & short-fin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus), both of which are declining in Australian waters².

Dr Leonardo Guida, shark scientist at AMCS said, "Australia is positioned well to protect and support the recovery of our endangered sharks and rays - but only if we act now. We need to fix our national environment law that allows endangered sharks, like the scalloped hammerhead, to be plucked from the water and land on our plates as 'flake'.

Sharks keep marine food-webs in-check and without them, food-webs can become unstable and possibly collapse. Despite knowing this, industrial sized gillnets over a kilometer long gillnets are still used in the Great Barrier Reef to catch endangered scalloped hammerheads for their meat and fins. Getting these gillnets out of the Reef is just one thing we can do today to protect endangered sharks and boost the Reef's health,” said Dr Guida.

The organisations have launched a campaign to drive better protection for sharks and rays, encouraging Australians to become Shark Champions and create healthier oceans. 


Sign up to Shark Champions at www.sharkchampions.org.au.

REFERENCE
1. Full list of species examined:

Carcharhinus falciformis
Silky Shark

Cetorhinus maximus
Basking Shark

Mobula alfredi
Reef Manta Ray

Carcharhinus galapagensis
Galapagos Shark

Carcharodon carcharias
White Shark

Mobula birostris
Giant Manta Ray

Carcharhinus longimanus
Oceanic Whitetip Shark

Isurus oxyrinchus
Shortfin Mako

Mobula eregoodoo
Longhorned Pygmy Devilray

Carcharhinus obscurus
Dusky Shark

Isurus paucus
Longfin Mako

Mobula hypostoma
Atlantic Devilray

Prionace glauca
Blue Shark

Lamna ditropis
Salmon Shark

Mobula kuhlii
Shortfin Devilray

Sphyrna lewini
Scalloped Hammerhead

Lamna nasus
Porbeagle

Mobula mobular
Giant Devilray

Sphyrna mokarran
Great Hammerhead

Megachasma pelagios
Megamouth Shark

Mobula munkiana
Pygmy Devilray

Sphyrna zygaena
Smooth Hammerhead

Odontaspis noronhai
Bigeye Sand Tiger

Mobula tarapacana
Sicklefin Devilray

Alopias pelagicus
Pelagic Thresher

Pseudocarcharias kamoharai
Crocodile Shark

Mobula thurstoni
Bentfin Devilray

Alopias superciliosus
Bigeye Thresher

Rhincodon typus
Whale Shark

 

Alopias vulpinus
Common Thresher

Pteroplatytrygon violacea
Pelagic Stingray

 

2. Simpfendorfer CA, Chin A, Rigby CL, Sherman S, White WT (2019) 'Shark futures: a report card for Australia's sharks and rays.' (Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture: James Cook University)

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About HSI Australia

HSI concentrates on the preservation of endangered animals and ecosystems and works to ensure quality of life for all animals, both domestic and wild. HSI is the largest animal protection not-for-profit organisation in the world and has been established in Australia since 1994