Caribbean experts outline shark and ray conservation measures
Caribbean fisheries experts recently made several recommendations for the conservation of overexploited species of sharks and rays, which will likely be adopted and implemented throughout the region by next year.
At a regional meeting held in Barbados mid-October, fisheries experts recommended the countries in the region should prohibit the removal of shark fins at sea and require that all sharks be landed with their fins still attached. The experts also recommended the prohibition of targeted fisheries of iconic species including whale sharks, sawfishes, and manta rays and that incidental catches of these species should be promptly released unharmed and alive, to the fullest possible extent.
The recommendations were made at the First Meeting of the Joint Working Group on Shark Conservation and Management, held 17 to 19 October at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Secretariat of the Western Central Atlantic Fishery Commission (WECAFC), United Nations House, Barbados.
The Joint Working Group comprises members of the WECAFC, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), the Organization for Fisheries and Aquaculture of Central America (OSPESCA) and the Caribbean Fisheries Management Council of the United States Department of Commerce (CFMC).
Though sharks and rays represent only two percent of total fish catches in the region, FAO representative Vyjayanthi Lopez said in her welcome address that they are a vital part of the marine ecosystem.
“Aside from contributing to the ecological sustainability of marine life, the shark species also contributes to social and economic sustainability,” Lopez said. “However, due to their life-history characteristics, many species are vulnerable to the pressures of overfishing and have experienced rapid population decline. Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, overfishing of the species consumed by sharks and polluted habitats in some cases contribute to further decline of shark stocks in the region.”
The group of more than 30 regional experts also worked on a Regional Plan of Action for the conservation and management of sharks and rays (RPOA-Sharks). The RPOA-Sharks will incorporate regional collaboration on shark research, data collection and sharing, capacity building, harmonized management and conservation measures, enforcement and monitoring. Awareness raising and public education are expected to further increase the impact of the regional plan and help shark stock recovery in the Western Central Atlantic.