President, Shark Advocates International
Sonja Fordham founded Shark Advocates International as a project of The Ocean Foundation in 2010 based on her two decades of shark conservation experience at Ocean Conservancy. She is Deputy Chair of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group and Conservation Committee Chair for the American Elasmobranch Society, has co-authored numerous publications on shark fisheries management, and serves on most of the U.S. federal and state government advisory panels relevant to sharks and rays. Her awards include the U.S. Department of Commerce Environmental Hero Award, the Peter Benchley Shark Conservation Award, and the IUCN Harry Messel Award for Conservation Leadership.
A new study confirming the mysterious deepsea Greenland Shark as the world’s longest lived vertebrate has made huge news in the last few days – from Science News and BBC to People magazine and the Wall Street Journal. While some scientists are questioning whether these sharks live quite as long as estimated (392 years ± 120), most agree they could well live for a century or two and – as a result — are particularly vulnerable to overfishing. Experts also warn that risks to Greenland sharks may be increasing as melting sea ice changes Arctic ecosystems and makes fishing in the region more feasible. Study authors are among those urging a precautionary approach to the species’ conservation. In other words, an incomplete picture of status and threats should not be used as an excuse for inaction. So what might be threatening Greenland sharks today, and which upcoming policy opportunities might warrant consideration, given worldwide interest in these jaw-dropping findings? To come up with some ideas, I first took a look back.
Last week, I previewed the annual NAFO meeting. Two elasmobranch conservation measures (reducing the Total Allowable Catch for thorny skates to the level that the scientific council recommended and requiring fishermen to report the species of the sharks they catch) were to be discussed. That meeting is now concluded, and the results, while not surprising, are disappointing. The Total Allowable Catch for thorny skates was reduced to 8500 metric tons, but is still higher than the 5000 metric tons recommended by the scientific council. Fishermen will now be required to report the “broad category” of sharks they catch, but not species.
“Although we are pleased that the NAFO skate quota will no longer be twice as high as scientists advise, it is still deeply disappointing to witness another year of the European Union and Canada putting the interests of their fishermen above their conservation commitments and the long-term health of exceptionally vulnerable populations,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International.
Grading the players
The U.S. proposed and supported both policy changes. A
The European Union was only willing to support a 5,000 metric ton TAC if the fishery changed to free-for-all derby style fishing (which could result in EU fishermen getting the entire quota and not just a share of it). C-
Canada suggested slowly phasing in the new quota over the course of 2 years. C-
Bonus player grade: Japan was the only party that objected to fishermen having to report the species of shark that they caught. F.
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.