Sharks have been swimming in our oceans for 420 million years – 200 million years before dinosaurs walked the earth. As apex predators, sharks play an important role in the ecosystem by maintaining the species below them in the food chain and serving as an indicator for ocean health.
Today many species are in trouble. It’s time to stop being scared of sharks and instead be scared for them.
In a 2014 Oceana study, researchers estimated that as many as 100 million sharks are still caught and killed worldwide due to bycatch, illegal fishing and the demand for shark fins. Today, sharks are targeted worldwide by both highly industrialized fishing fleets and smaller artisanal fisheries, making it harder for endangered sharks to stand a chance of surviving.
Occurring in fisheries around the world, bycatch is the accidental capture of non-target fish and other marine life. Globally, up to 10.3 million tonnes of sea life is unintentionally caught each year, captured in nets, lines and other gear. Some of this is kept and sold, or released safely; but far too much is put back in the ocean, either dead or dying.
Sharks fall victim to this far too often. For example, in Canada’s north Atlantic swordfish fishery, 45 per cent of the total catch is discarded. This fishery is responsible for 99 per cent of blue shark discards in Canada. Eight other types of sharks are also caught, including the threatened shortfin mako and endangered porbeagle. That is why Oceana Canada is advocating for better management measures to reduce bycatch in Canada’s fisheries.
It was discovered through a 2013 Oceana report that up to 24 countries may be catching sharks within the Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea without reporting such catches, which is required by the Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).
As a result, most shark species caught within ICCAT fisheries remain poorly managed, if at all. Only very few sharks, out of a total 465 species, have international protective regulations in place, and highly threatened species continue to be landed and sold.
Shark fin trade
The international fin trade is one of the greatest threats to shark species. Shark fin soup has been a traditional Chinese delicacy for thousands of years, often served to signal wealth and honor. However, shark finning is a wasteful and harmful practice in which only two to five percent of the shark is even used — once a shark’s fins are cut off at sea, the shark is tossed back into the water to drown.
Efforts to save sharks usually focus on the act of shark finning itself, which is illegal in Canadian waters. The fin trade itself gets a lot less attention that the inhumane fishing practices, but Canada is the largest importer of shark fins outside of Asia. Researchers have found that 73 million sharks would have to be killed each year to match the volume of fins that are traded in the global market and as long as fins are bought and sold here, sharks will keep dying globally to meet the demand.
Oceana Canada is calling on the government to end the import and export of shark fins by passing Bill S-238, and we’re making great progress! We’re almost at 150,000 signatures but we still need your help. Please add your voice to help sharks today. Let’s keep these elusive predators alive and in the oceans, rather than remembering them as a shadow of what once was.