Fishing kills more and more sharks: the outcome of the shocking study...

Fishing causes the death of too many sharks: according to newly published research, even more are dying today than 10 years ago

Sharks: mortality due to fishing is increasingly high
According to a study just published in the journal "Science", fishing kills more sharks today than 10 years ago, despite the bans (Photo: Envato)

International norms have not stopped the slaughter of sharks which has been consumed globally for decades: on the contrary, today the fishery causes the death of a greater number of specimens than what happened ten years ago.

This was revealed by a study just published in the international journal "Science": la total mortality, we read in the research, went from 76 million specimens in 2012 to 80 million in 2019. And among these there were approximately 25 million sharks belonging to threatened species or at risk of extinction.

Currently about a quarter of the species present in the world are at risk of becoming extinct, and apparently the ban on "finning”, applied in 70 percent of overseas countries and territories, it has not been sufficient to protect the cartilaginous fish of our oceans.

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Shark mortality increased from 76 million specimens in 2012 to 80 million in 2019, and among these there were approximately 25 million sharks belonging to threatened or endangered species (Photo: Envato)

The ancient predators of the seas and the challenge of the Anthropocene

- sharks they appeared on Earth long before the dinosaurs: the sharp predators of the oceans existed even before the plants we know colonized the planet's emerged lands.

There is scientific evidence of the existence of sharks dating back to approximately 450-420 million years ago, that is, when the southern continents of the Earth were united into a single super-continent called Gondwana.

The Chondrichthyes dominated the seas in the Carboniferous and survived four mass extinctions, including that of the Permian-Triassic, considered the most catastrophic of all time.

That of resisting pressures of the Anthropocene, however, is proving to be a decisive challenge for the survival of sharks: in recent decades, hundreds of millions of specimens have been killed simply to be deprived of their precious fins (which in some Asian markets have enormous value), others have ended up in the networks of tuna fishermen, still others have disappeared with the degradation of their habitat.

Over the past twenty years it has become clear to everyone what sharks were among the most threatened species on the planet, thus regulations and regulations have multiplied to protect the ancient predators of the sea.

According to an international team of scientists, however, the bans didn't work: between 2012 and 2019, the study says just published in “Science”, shark mortality due to fishing has increased.

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Over the years, tuna fishing has killed a large number of sharks, which ended up in the nets as "by-catch": then came the boom in demand for shark fins (Photo: Envato)

The study: intensive fishing kills more and more sharks

The discovery, unexpected to say the least, is the fruit of one international study which involved researchers from several North American universities, including Dalhousie University (in Canadian Nova Scotia) and the University of California.

"We found that despite myriad regulations aimed at curbing shark overfishing, the total number of sharks killed each year due to fishing is not decreasing”, explains Dr Darcy Bradley of the University of California,”if anything it is slightly increasing".

Scientists analyzed trends in shark mortality in 150 countries, territories and high seas where fishing takes place, between 2012 and 2019, tracing the fate of approximately 1,1 billion sharks caught at sea.

In 2019, around 80 million sharks were caught, at least 25 million of which belonged to endangered species, numbers that have remained constant or even increased over the last decade. If we also consider specimens not adequately identified by species, the 2019 catches amounted to 101 million sharks.

Mortality, we read in the study, is increased by 4 percent in coastal waters, but decreased by 7 percent in pelagic fisheries, especially in the Atlantic and western Pacific.

Regulations to prevent the practice of shark finning they appear not to have had the desired effect. On the other hand, as Dr. explains Boris Worms from Dalhousie University,”regional bans on fishing or keeping sharks have had some success".

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The silent massacre of sharks in a shocking study
As can be read in the newly published study, the ban on finning involves over 70 percent of fishing countries (Graphic: Boris Worm et al., Science 383, 225, 2024)

Protection of Selachimorpha: banning finning is not enough

Historically, the research says, a huge amount of sharks have ended up accidentally in tuna fishing nets, and high mortality has been linked to growing demand for them fins, which in some Asian markets are a very valuable commodity.

In response, national governments and regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) have introduced several protection rules, which have multiplied in the last two decades.

Today the practice of finning is prohibited in around 70 percent of countries and overseas territories: “It's not just about one or two countries", explains Laurenne Schiller, postdoctoral researcher at Dalhousie, “many governments and some of the world's largest fishing companies have committed to eliminating finning, often in response to public pressure".

Governments and associations have made considerable efforts to counter trade in threatened species and raise public awareness about fin consumption of shark.

However, no one had investigated the possible effects of these regulations on the actual mortality of sharks: the finning bans have probably reduced the finning of animals in the open sea, yet More and more sharks are being killed.

According to researchers, such bans may have even increased catches, encouraging the full “utilization” of sharks and creating additional markets for shark meat and other products, such as cartilage andliver oil, widely used in cosmetics.

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Mislabeling of shark meat: an alarming phenomenon

Instead of discouraging catches, the finning ban appears to have broadened the scope of the phenomenon. As he explains Leonardo Manir Feitosa, Brazilian shark biologist and co-author of the study: “We have seen the demand for shark fins decrease and the demand for shark meat increase, with Brazil and Italy as main consumers".

"Shark meat”, continues the scholar, “it is a relatively cheap substitute for other types of fish and labels are often misleading, leading many consumers to eat shark meat without knowing it".

Shark meat is very often found in fish-and-chips and ceviche, while a perfect example of “mislabeling”, sadly widespread in Italy, consists in passing off the “small” blue shark as swordfish.

"From our analysis it is clear that repressing shark finning is not enough”, he argues Echelle Burns, data scientist at UC Santa Barbara, “we need more specific measures that address shark mortality, such as ban fishing in certain areas or require fishermen to release vulnerable species caught accidentally".

Protection must also be accompanied by awareness and management projects at community level, a crucial aspect especially in countries where the small-scale artisanal fishing is among the main factors in shark mortality.

"The total ban on shark fishing, through protective measures such as shark sanctuaries, can be successful”, concludes Bradley, “this highlights the opportunity to prioritize these and other conservation measures based on individual geographical areas".

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Trends in shark mortality across 150 fishing countries, territories and high-seas areas between 2012 and 2019, tracking the fate of an estimated 1,1 billion sharks caught at sea (Photo: Envato)