Sharks are being pushed towards extinction at an alarming rate, a new study has revealed. A joint American and Canadian investigation, “Global Catches, Exploitation Rates and Rebuilding Options for Sharks,” recently published in environmental journal, Marine Policy has revealed sharks are dying at an average of 100 million sharks per year across a variety of shark species.
A press release issued from Canada’s Dalhousie University, one of the institutions involved in the research, states that commercial shark fishing is responsible for the majority of shark deaths with most of those being related to the shark fin industry. Shark fins are the most commercially valuable part of the shark and are used in a variety of traditional Eastern medicines as well as in shark fin soup, a luxury cuisine in China. It is a common practice in shark finning to remove the fins and discard the rest of the carcass.
The Washington Post reports that while there have been efforts to decrease the practice of shark finning around the world, the overall number of shark deaths has only seen a slight drop off in the decade between 2000 and 2010, with numbers going from 100 million to 97 million. As the new paper suggests, with some yearly shark mortality rates reaching in excess of 250 million, the average remains unchanged. Illegal and unreported shark hunting was not recorded in these figures.
In addition to overfishing, sharks have a slow breeding rate and as such are unable to reproduce fast enough to make up for the number of annual deaths. “Sharks are similar to whales, and humans, in that they mature late in life and have few offspring,” said Boris Worm, lead author of the paper and Professor of Biology at Dalhousie University. “As such, they cannot sustain much additional mortality. Our analysis shows that about one in 15 sharks gets killed by fisheries every year. With an increasing demand for their fins, sharks are more vulnerable today than ever before.”
Co-author of the paper and executive director of Florida International University School of Environment, Arts and Society, Mike Heithaus said the possible extinction of sharks is of particular ecological concern as sharks have an overall effect on the wider ecosystem. “In working with tiger sharks, we’ve seen that if we don’t have enough of these predators around, it causes cascading changes in the ecosystem, that trickle all the way down to marine plants,” he said. These changes to marine ecosystems will also have a negative impact on the commercial fishing industry.
Samuel Gruber from the University of Miami has said that while the annual shark mortality figures are alarming, there is hope for the future protection of sharks. “Existing regulations are a great start but we must ensure they are adequately enforced,” he said. “In addition, more nations must invest in sustainable shark fisheries management. This means introducing catch limits, trade regulation and other protective measures for the most vulnerable species and those that move across international boundaries.”
The French Tribune reports findings from the new paper will be presented at The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Bangkok this week, where an international consortium of scientists will discuss protection measures that need to be imposed to ensure sharks are protected from any further threat of extinction.