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Figure: Infographic on the sustainability of shark fisheries. For more information, please visit http://www.dulvy.com/sharkbrightspots.html

Bright spots of hope for sharks and rays

The motivationOne only has to watch the movies Sharkwater and Racing Extinction to see that the only way to save the oceans is to ban fishing. There are two main reasons why bans on fishing, and especially shark fishing, doesn’t work. First, most sharks and rays are collateral damage, they are caught incidentally by fisheries targeting other species. Many sharks and rays die or are mortally wounded during capture and handling. Bans won’t solve this problem, but smart fishing practices might. Second, many fishing communities – particularly in the tropics – depend heavily on sharks and rays as a vital source of animal protein; banning fishing may eliminate their only affordable source of meat. Transitioning toward sustainable fishing is the only future for these people and the sharks and rays.

Well-managed sustainable shark fisheries occur in developed nations (e.g., USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand). But there are developed nations and institutions that lack science-based sustainable catch limits, and hence, sustainably caught sharks and rays. The bigger challenge will be to drive fisheries sustainability in the developing world also. Here in British Columbia, we have sustainable shark and ray fisheries; the Dulvy group at Simon Fraser University (SFU) is examining how sustainable shark management works in these local fisheries.

The discovery – Contrary to the conventional wisdom, sharks and rays can be fished sustainably. While a quarter of sharks and rays face extinction, there is hope. SFU researchers show that around 10% of the current global catch comes from sustainably fished populations. The prevailing thought was that sustainable fisheries would be difficult, because many species of shark and ray live for a long time before maturing and only then give birth to a few young each year. While this is generally true, the devil is in the details. There are many sharks and rays with fast life histories that can sustain small- to medium-sized fisheries. With strong management, the inherent stability of shark and ray populations means that even species with fairly slow life histories can be managed sustainably.

Its significance – These findings enable conversation about sustainable fishing and trade. In a globally interconnected world, banning the fin trade won’t stop the killing, but it may well reduce the incomes and food security of the poorest fishing families in the world and the chance of saving species.

Read the paper“Bright spots of sustainable shark fishing” by Colin A. Simpfendorfer and Nicholas K. Dulvy. Current Biology 27:R97-R98 (2017).  http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2016.12.017

Figure: Infographic on the sustainability of shark fisheries.  For more information, please visit http://www.dulvy.com/sharkbrightspots.html

Website article compiled by Jacqueline Watson with Theresa Kitos