Atlantic sharks need protection now, says new report

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Many migratory shark species living within the Atlantic have little or no protection and are in danger of extinction a new report warns.

The report, published by the conservation group Oceana, shows that current conservation measures are protecting less than 1% of sharks caught in the region.

Officials from 48 Atlantic fishing countries, under the banner of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) are meeting in Istanbul in an attempt to set up better protection for bluefin tuna, swordfish and other large fish species, and Oceana are using this meeting to lobby the members on increased shark protection.

At present, of the 20 highly migratory shark species caught and reported by ICCAT signatory countries, 15 have no catch limits and only five species, including Big-eye thresher (Alopias superciliosus), Oceanic white-tip (Carcharhinus longimanus) and the Smooth and Scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna zygaena and S. lewini ) have limits in place in the form of prohibitions on retaining the species if caught.

Worryingly there are no actual ICCAT quotas for shark catches meaning that of the 68,214 tonnes reported caught to ICCAT in 2009 (which was made up of an estimated 1.3 million animals) less than 1% was from species with some protection.

Most worrying of all though is that the unmanaged 99% include the Porbeagle and Silky sharks (Lamna nasus and Carcharhinus falciformis) both of which are included on the IUCN red list of threatened species, with the Porbeagle considered "Critically Endangered" in the Mediterranean and Northeast Atlantic and "Endangered" in the Northwest Atlantic, and the Silky "Vulnerable to Extinction" in the Northwest and Western Central Atlantic.

Conservation groups hope that the Istanbul meeting can be used to build upon recent progress on shark conservation that includes the EU banning all fishing of Porbeagle Shark in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, and the White House seeking the Senate's approval of a new international treaty to make it easier to stop illegal catches being landed at port. However time may be running out due to the low reproduction rates and slow maturation in the shark species involved.

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