Historically, only a few high value sharks (e.g. Shortfin Mako, Porbeagle, Spiny Dogfish) were targeted by fishing vessels for their meat, fins* and liver oil. Most species included in the No Limits? campaign were an unwanted, discarded part of the ‘bycatch’ in fisheries for more valuable bony fishes (such as cod and tuna). In recent decades, however, there has been a marked increase in the targeting and retention of these species, leading to alarming population declines for many, as well as the collapse and closure of some fisheries.
Did you know?
Shark fins are amongst the most expensive seafood products in the world often fetching well over US$400 per kilo, whereas shark meat is usually low value.
The result is that formerly abundant species (such as Spiny Dogfish and Porbeagle) were subject to decades of unmanaged fishing, and subsequently experienced dramatic population crashes – with Northeast Atlantic sub-populations now assessed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of threatened species. Experts have agreed that extinction risk is far higher for sharks and their relatives than for most other vertebrates – in fact recent assessments by the IUCN concluded that 25% of all sharks, skates and rays are now considered threatened meaning they face an increased risk of extinction (1).
The primary driver in this shift towards retention of bycaught sharks is the high value of their fins, which are highly valuable commodities in a global trade worth hundreds of millions of pounds annually. Research in 2006 indicated that the fins of 26-73 million sharks were traded worldwide each year, although the number of sharks caught as part of the fin trade was estimated to be three to four times higher (2). A range of species are also valued for their meat, cartilage and liver oil.
1. Dulvy NK, et al. 2014. Extinction risk and conservation of the world’s sharks and rays. eLIFE 3: e00590.
2. Clarke S, et al. 2006. Global estimates of shark catches using trade records from commercial markets. Ecology Letters, 9, 1115–1126.