Sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras, are among the world’s most threatened animals.
We need sharks to keep our ocean’s healthy and teeming with life. But human activity is pushing many species to the brink. Sharks and rays are particularly vulnerable to overfishing due to their biology. They’re:
- SLOW GROWING & LATE TO MATURE – it’s estimated that the Greenland Shark can live ~400 years and doesn’t reach sexual maturity until ~150 years! Many are killed before they’ve produced offspring.
- LONG PREGNANCIES – averaging between 9-12 months. The Greeneye Dogfish has the longest recorded pregnancy at 31 months!
- PRODUCE FEW YOUNG – varying from 2 pups for the Bigeye Thresher to 135 for the Blue Shark. Compare this to the reproduction potential of bony fish who release millions of eggs.
- MAY NOT REPRODUCE EVERY YEAR – some species have a resting phase of 1-2 years.
The biggest threat to sharks globally is overfishing. Each year many tens of millions of sharks are landed. Fuelled by a high demand for shark products. Sharks play vital roles in marine ecosystems. So, as shark populations rapidly decline around the world, so too does the health of our oceans.
A global expansion of shark fishing has been underway for several decades. Inadequate fisheries management worldwide is a big challenge to shark conservation. As is the complex nature of the international trade of shark products. Our job becomes more challenging still due to a lack of shark data and resources. Also a lack of political will to properly monitor, manage and control shark fisheries and trade.
DEMAND FOR SHARK PRODUCTS
Shark meat and products can be found in restaurants, health food stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, fashion stores, souvenir and pet shops. Often consumers are unaware certain products contain shark, as it’s not clearly labelled. Consumer awareness is key.
- SHARK MEAT & FINS – it’s encouraging to see declines in demand for shark fins. Yet it’s important to note that the global trade in shark meat is on the rise. This is likely to far exceed any demand for fins, which are mainly sent to East and Southeast Asia.
- MANTA & DEVIL RAY GILL PLATES – these are highly sought after in the Chinese medicinal trade. It’s claimed that gill rakers can filter out disease and toxins from the body. The gill rakers, which are used by the rays to filter zooplankton from the water, are often consumed in a soup called Peng Yu Sai. They’re worth an estimated US$11 million annually. The gill plate trade, centered in Guangzhou, China, has stimulated intensive fishing for these rays in many countries.
- SHARK LIVER OIL (labelled squalene/squalane) – this can be found in a surprising number of products. From moisturisers, deodorants and sun tan lotion, to lip balm, lipsticks and other cosmetics. It’s also used in vaccines, pills and supplements. The highest return of squalene comes from the livers of deep sea sharks. And so, they’re intensively fished. Due to the nature of their biology they’re unable to withstand this level of fishing pressure. Many are now listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species.
- SHARK CARTILAGE – is sold as a health supplement in many health food shops and pharmacies. It’s believed to help a variety of conditions, including arthritis, shingles, rheumatism, haemorrhoids, psoriasis and even cancer. Yet there’s no clinical evidence to support these claims
- SHARK LEATHER (shagreen) – shark skin has been used for decades to make leather because it’s so durable. It’s particularly popular in the United States, northern Europe and Japan. It’s used to create luxury items such as, wallets, shoes (including football boots created by the brand Kelme), handbags, watch straps, belts, gloves, jackets and furniture. As well as sandpaper and on sword handles, as its rough texture helps with grip.
- SHARK TEETH & JAWS – these can often be seen for sale in seaside tourist shops. Despite the fact that in many countries it’s illegal to catch sharks. White Sharks are protected under CITES, yet their teeth and jaws can fetch huge sums on the black market. A single tooth can sell for over $100 and a whole set of jaws can fetch up to $10,000 in the USA. Sadly, illegal smuggling of White Shark teeth is becoming increasingly common in countries such as South Africa.
Shark finning is the process of cutting off the fins of a shark and discarding the body, often still alive, at sea. This wasteful and cruel practice contradicts all principles of sustainability. It also makes effective fisheries management impossible. It’s illegal in many parts of the world, including Europe. But, weak legislation and ineffective enforcement often undermines shark finning regulations. Our Stop Shark Finning campaign continues to address this issue.
POLLUTION & HABITAT DESTRUCTION
Healthy oceans need sharks. But sharks also need healthy oceans. Climate change, pollution and the destruction of habitats all play a part in declining shark populations. To survive sharks need food, areas to breed, give birth, and shelter for their young. Mangroves, for instance, provide essential food and protection for Lemon Shark pups.