The top 10 shark conservation stories of 2011

Caribbean reef shark, Bimini. Photo credit: David Shiffman

2011 was a relatively good year for sharks and rays. Presented below, in no particular order, are ten important shark conservation stories from the past year.

1. Shark sanctuaries. The world gained several new shark sanctuaries, areas where shark fishing is banned, in 2011. Nations creating new shark sanctuaries include Honduras (~92,000 square miles), the Bahamas (~240,000 square miles), Marshall Islands/Guam/Palau (a regional partnership protecting almost 2 million square miles). Numerous concerns about enforcing rules in these huge areas, as well as concerns about potential loopholes in the policies, exist among conservation scientists.

2. Fin bans. These laws ban the possession, trade, or sale of shark fins within the boundaries of a city, state/territory, or country. In 2011, Hawaii’s first-in-the-US fin ban took effect, and a few other US states (California, Washington, and Oregon) passed similar laws. There is an ongoing debate in the shark conservation community about whether blanket bans on finning are better than promoting best practices (i.e. more sustainable shark fishing techniques). Additionally, some are concerned that we aren’t focusing enough on other threats to sharks like bycatch and habitat destruction.

3. Hammerheads and tiger sharks protected from fishing in Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has added tiger sharks, as well as smooth, scalloped, and great hammerhead sharks, to their list of prohibited species. Starting in January of 2012, anyone who catches one of these species in Florida state waters will be required to release it. I’m proud to say that my lab’s research was used to get protections for these animals.

4. Manta rays get Convention on Migratory Species protections. Just weeks after being added to the IUCN Red List, giant manta rays were added to Appendix 1 and Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species treaty. This move will encourage local and regional protective measures for these animals.

5. Proposed shark cull in Western Australia cancelled. In response to a series of shark attacks, the premier of Western Australia proposed a plan to cull local shark populations. This move would have been ecologically damaging and would have done little to protect swimmers. A media (both traditional and social media) campaign caused the Western Australian government to reconsider and cancel the cull.

6. Endangered Species Act listings. In August, the Largetooth Sawfish became the second elasmobranch to gain legal protection from the Endangered Species Act, one of the strongest environmental conservation laws in the world. The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service is also considering giving the same protection scalloped hammerhead sharks. However, they rejected a petition to list thorny skates.

7. Open access shark conservation research. In 2010, hundreds of shark scientists from around the world attended Sharks International, a multi-disciplinary shark science meeting, in Cairns, Australia. Last summer, the scientific journal Marine and Freshwater research published a special edition focusing on shark conservation and management research from Sharks International. Included in this special edition is the article that won the inaugural WhySharksMatter most important shark conservation paper of the year award.  The entire issue is open access, and is a great resource for conservationists, students, managers, and scientists.

8. IUCN Shark Specialist Group Symposium. At the 2nd International Marine Conservation Congress, the largest-ever gathering of marine conservation scientists, a shark conservation symposium was organized by the IUCN Shark Specialist Group. That symposium was recorded and placed online, and is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in shark conservation and management.

9. Taking shark fin soup off the menu. Quite a few hotels, restaurants, and grocery stores around the world chose to voluntarily stop serving shark fin soup. These include Singapore’s Cold Storage Supermarket chain, Luxury Peninsula hotels (locations throughout China), and Foster’s Foods in the Cayman Islands (which also now sponsors shark research).

10. ICCAT protections for silky sharks. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas passed a new proposal that will help protect silky sharks, which are considered Vulnerable to extinction in the Northwest Atlantic by the IUCN Red List. The original proposal would have made it illegal to keep any captured silky sharks, as well as to land them or ship them internationally. Objections were raised by developing nations, and a compromise which allows some catch for local consumption in exchanged for improved reporting of shark catches was eventually passed. Proposals to protect porbeagle sharks and to require landing sharks with fins naturally attached did not pass.

While this list of successes is impressive, there is still a lot of work to be done to prevent sharks, skates, and rays from becoming extinct. I hope that 2012 will be an even better year for marine conservation.

  1. Funnily enough I thought the most important story was that shark conservation is actually a fig leaf for oil & energy corporations, through their ‘charitable trusts’ to ring fence large areas of international waters through MPAs, MCZs and ‘shark sanctuaries’ with the purpose of leasing it out to other oil & energy corporations, & using the money from that to fund the science that supports the policy of ring fencing large areas of international waters for ‘protecting sharks’ etc. I also thought they were using environmental wire services to get propaganda out to their supporters that it’s all the fault of the Chinese, when strangely the Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, the supposed ‘bad guys’ have all ratified the UN Law of the Sea – which the USA hasn’t – along with other states like – well, North Korea. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that by not ratifying the UN Law of the Sea, US companies don’t have to buy a license to exploit the world’s ocean – that will be the ocean we all ‘own’, nor do they have to pay any tax on the profits they make from exploiting it. I thought that would be the biggest story, personally….?

  2. Sounds like great progress is being made in some important areas……we can only hope it translates into real protection and not just good intentions……

  3. Number #5
    Clarification on alleged Shark Cull Order by WA Minister.

    http://sharkyear.com/2011/clarification-on-alleged-shark-cull-order-by-wa-minister.html

    “There is no order to cull sharks or a „shoot to kill‟ order

    I guess you missed the claification as you will see one shark was ordered to be killed if it was caught not all of them and that was because it was in the area and still posed a threat to human life or injury.

    This is like the 100 million sharks killed for their fins when the Clarke study shows no where near 100 million sharks are killed for their fins.

    Shark conservation at its best made up figures.

    • Lana, I have several colleagues in Western Australia who were following the issue quite closely and they assure me that you are incorrect.

      The idea that people can find an individual shark responsible for an attack and kill it is absurd. It’s been tried many times, and always results in multiple shark deaths.

      Additionally, they were planning on putting up beach nets, which would kill numerous sharks in the area.

  4. Great work! coming from Asia, shark fins are ALWAYS on the menu as a prestige item and in almost every restaurant / hotel / banquet event, which is so sad. An observation- it’ll need heavy ratification and endorsement by Asian countries / consumers for sharks to be ‘safe’. Much work yet to be done here & Singapore’s Cold Storage, Peninsula Hotels Group truly lead the way.

  5. Personally I would have added the recently increased protection for critically endangered Porbeagles in the EU somewhere in this list. http://www.projectaware.org/update/eu-protects-porbeagle-sharks There have been several illegal landings of Porbeagles in Western Europe this year, which were then sold to restaurants. The fishermen and the fish auction said they “weren’t aware that porbeables are protected” … and lately restaurants here seemed to develop a taste for this “exotic” fish meat as a promotional stunt. Big problem is that even with the new regulations restaurants, if they think it’s commercially worth it, can still import the same migrating critically endangered Porbeagles from Norway or Iceland.

    • I was hesitant to put protection for porbeagles on there because it’s been inconsistent. ICCAT failed to pass a proposal to protect them that would have done far more than this EU policy. Thanks for the suggestion, though. Happy holidays!

  6. before homo crapiens starting f*cking with our planets, worlds within our world existed, in a balance created by the earth mother. apex predators were directly responsible for maintaining that statis.

    then the avarice and ignorance of manunkind kicks in, and animals kicked out.

    this stops or the species of man self-destructs, as it destroys those around it

  7. Beleive politicians over shark conservastion people. Sounds ridiculos doesn’t it, but I’ll go with the politicions. You can find shark conservation people lying everyday and they know they are lying and continue to do so. Oh that’s right you are at UM now the biggest liars about sharks come from there.

  8. It’s a sad day when someone thinks a politician is more honest than a shark conservationist. Especially because they are about the most passionate group of people you will ever meet!

  9. As a West Australian, I agree – believing the West Australian Premier in particular on any conservation issue would be particularly naive. The Premier and his political party have a strong history of supporting big business and a very poor record on conservation issues of all types.

  10. Lana, Whats your hidden aganeda here ? You a fin trader/merchant by any chance ? Worried the current trend is affecting business ? Or just have a deep hatred of sharks ? Disputing the number of sharks
    killed is a pointless excerise as shark fishing is notoriously unregulated and the dark art of finning is legendary under the counter stuff, anyway 1 million, 10 million, 100 million is all far too many. As a diver for the last 15 years I have seen with my own eyes the drastic reduction in shark numbers and the ones I do see are far smaller than in previous years. I don’t need a report to tell me far too many sharks are being killed, stick your head under the water and see for yourself

  11. Very nice post and a great resource David. Thank you. I consider you the go-to guy for shark conservation. However, I view a lot of these paper conservation measures as rather toothless and ineffective, if a tiny step in the right direction. None of this western hoopla seems to be slowing the shark massacre in most places and sharks remain rare to non-existant on most of the reefs I work at.

    We worked a lot on illegal shark fishing in the Galapagos in 2011. On the bright side, the Galapagos National Park finally started bringing in shark long lining boats from Manta that were fishing in the Galapagos “marine reserve”. Yet there were no prosecutions and they keep catching more boats (full of dead sharks), thus the catch and release of the fisherman is not acting as a deterrent.

    Sorry to be a downer