16 February 2010 A landmark agreement to protect the sharply declining number of sharks was reached today under the United Nations-backed Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).
The agreement, already signed by 11 States with a potential membership of over 100 countries, bolsters the conservation of migratory sharks through coordinated research and management of their populations, as well as other measures such as enforcing existing laws concerning illegal fishing and trade.
All seven shark species in the CMS appendices – the great white, basking, whale, porbeagle, spiny dogfish, shortfin and longfin mako sharks – are covered under this agreement.
“This first global CMS instrument on commercially exploited species is a decisive step forward in international shark conservation,” said Elizabeth Mrema, Executive Secretary of the CMS, which is administered by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
“Wildlife conventions, UN agencies and international fisheries need to work together to prevent these creatures that roam the world’s oceans from becoming extinct,” added Ms. Mrema.
The CMS agreement, concluded at a gathering of government representatives in the Philippines, aims to restore the long-term viability of populations of migratory sharks.
UNEP noted that over-fishing, fisheries by-catch, illegal trade, habitat destruction, depletion of prey species, pollution with a high risk of mercury intoxication, boat strikes and the impact of climate change on the marine environment all seriously threaten sharks.
Gestation periods of up to 22 months, a life expectancy of up to 100 years, relatively low reproductive rates, migratory patterns, and low natural mortality combine to make the protection of some species and their habitat difficult and make sharks particularly vulnerable with little chance to recover if over-fished.
In addition, whale shark meat has been increasingly considered as a high-grade, exotic product since the late 1980s, and according to TRAFFIC – a wildlife trade monitoring network – prices have skyrocketed to $7,000 for 2,000 kilograms in Taiwan, for example.
According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), up to 900,000 tons of sharks have been caught every year for the last two decades, and calculating for illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing and missing data, the actual catch figure is estimated to be at least twice as high.
Studies show that shark populations collapsed in both in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Mediterranean Sea by 90 per cent, and by 75 per cent in the north-western Atlantic Ocean within 15 years, said UNEP.
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