Later today, the annual meeting of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) begins in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The marine conservation world should pay close attention. NAFO made history in 2004 by becoming the first regional fisheries management organization to set a shared quota for a shark, skate, or ray fishery, but the future of that legacy is in question.
A thorny problem
The main species in the NAFO skate fishery is the thorny skate, which is Critically Endangered in U.S. waters according to the IUCN red list. NAFO is deserving of praise for creating a “total allowable catch (TAC)” for an elasmobranch in the first place, but the current TAC is much higher than what the NAFO scientific council recommends : The TAC is currently 12,000 metric tons, but the scientific council recommends a TAC of 5,000 metric tons. Incidentally, 5,000 metric tons is pretty close to what reported catches have been recently.
Players to watch
The European Union: Spain is one of the largest participants in the NAFO skate fishery, but the European Community Plan of Action for Sharks states that the EU will follow scientific advice in making their elasmobranch fisheries policy.
Canada: Our neighbor to the north is also a major participant in the skate fishery, but they also stress the importance of following scientific advice when making fisheries policy
The United States: Our representatives have been leading the charge for science-based management of thorny skates and other animals, and have previously advocated for the thorny skate TAC to be at the levels recommended by the scientific council.
I’ll post a short follow-up piece on the outcome of the NAFO meeting early next week. Shark Advocates International President Sonja Fordham will be attending the meeting as a conservation community representative on the United States government delegation. Shark Advocates International has coordinated getting numerous conservation NGOs to sign letters to the players listed above urging them to heed the scientific council’s advice.
Concerned citizens from EU nations and Canada still have time to contact their fisheries ministers to ask them to follow the scientific council’s recommendation of a skate TAC no more than 5,000 metric tons.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about this issue, please post them below and I’ll be happy to answer them for you.