US and EU block plans to protect world’s fastest shark from overfishing

Shortfin mako shark numbers have collapsed by 99.9 per cent since industrial fishing began

Harry Cockburn
Monday 23 November 2020 15:15
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The shortfin mako shark can swim at up to 43mph and leap over 6m from the surface of the ocean
The shortfin mako shark can swim at up to 43mph and leap over 6m from the surface of the ocean

The EU and US have blocked British and Canadian efforts to protect an endangered shark species, angering conservationists.

The shortfin mako shark is also known as “the cheetah of the ocean” because it is the fastest shark species, swimming at up to 43mph, but numbers have collapsed by 99.9 per cent since the 18th century due to overfishing, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

The fast-swimming shark, which can jump over 6 metres from the surface of the water, is targeted by sport fishermen as well as for meat and fins. But it is also routinely caught accidentally as boats seek other species.

EU vessels are responsible for the majority of the recorded bycatch, in particular Spain and Portugal, followed by Morocco.

Conservationists were “shocked and distressed that the European Union and the United States – despite long promoting science-based shark conservation – were the main obstacles to the adoption of urgently needed protections for mako sharks at the annual meeting”, according to the Shark League – an umbrella organisation for shark protection.

Scientists at the Shark Trust and at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (Iccat), a fisheries management organisation, have warned that the Atlantic population of short-finned mako sharks could take 50 years to begin to recover, even if fishing ceased immediately.

The UK backed a proposed ban on trade of mako sharks, alongside Canada and Senegal, as Iccat scientists advised.

The vote was the UK’s first official Iccat vote as a country independent of the EU, and representatives said they were disappointed no agreement had been reached last year.

But the US and EU argued that the ban would not be enough to prevent bycatch, and voted against the proposal. The lack of consensus means no decision on the rules on mako sharks will be reached until next year.

Ali Hood, director of conservation for the Shark Trust, said: “North Atlantic mako depletion remains among the world’s most pressing shark conservation crises, yet the EU and US put short-term fishing interests above all else and ruined a golden opportunity for agreeing a clear and simple remedy.

“The repeated obstruction of vital, science-based protections allows top mako fishing countries – Spain, Morocco and Portugal – to continue to fish these endangered sharks, essentially without limit, and drive valuable populations toward collapse.”

Sonja Fordham, president of Shark Advocates International, said: “North Atlantic mako depletion is among the world’s most pressing shark conservation crises.

“A clear and simple remedy was within reach. Yet the EU and US put short-term fishing interests above all else and ruined a golden opportunity for real progress. It’s truly disheartening and awful.”

Zac Goldsmith, the international environment minister, told The Telegraph: “We are pushing for stricter protections for mako sharks, and I'm disappointed there isn't a consensus on this issue. The UK has co-sponsored a proposal for a ban on landing these important endangered species at the current Iccat annual meeting.

“As a newly independent nation, now able to speak in these global forums in our own right, we will continue to make the case for greater protection of endangered species – on land and in the ocean.”

Iccat parties plan to hold a special intercessional meeting next year to continue mako talks, the Shark League said.

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