Shark Fishing Mortality On Rise Despite Regulatory Change

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Despite widespread legislation and fishing regulations aimed at reducing wasteful shark finning practices, global shark fishing mortality is still on the rise, researchers report. The findings suggest that improved regulations are needed to reverse the continued overexploitation of these species.

Over the last several decades, sharks have been increasingly recognized as some of the planet’s most threatened wildlife. Increasing shark mortality has been driven in part by overfishing – large numbers of sharks are often captured as bycatch in tuna fishing and killed for their fins.

As a response, national and international regulations aimed to eliminate shark finning and reduce the demand for shark fins have become commonplace. However, no studies to date have investigated whether shark finning or fishing legislature has successfully reduced shark fishing mortality at the global scale.

Using all available shark-catch data and regulatory data reported by individual fisheries, countries, and fisheries management organizations, Boris Worm and colleagues estimated global patterns of shark fishing mortality between 2012 and 2019 and compared the patterns with relevant regulations adopted during this time.

Worm et al. found that, overall, shark fishing mortality has continued to increase over the last 17 years – increasing from at least 76 to 80 million killed sharks per year – despite widespread regulatory change. Of these, roughly 25 million were threatened species.

While the authors found evidence that local and regional shark fishing and shark retention bans did reduce mortality, the widespread legislation established to curb shark finning had little effect on mortality and, in some cases, may have increased it by incentivizing full use of the animals and creating new markets for shark products.

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