Sunday, August 08, 2010

Managing Shark Stocks - a new Commission?

Shark stocks continue to be on the decline.

This is obviously just a part of the larger picture.
Despite of a plethora of orgs that try to monitor and manage Fish stocks, it appears that those efforts have so far fallen well short of attaining the aim of achieving the sustainable management of fisheries and the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems.

This is where this new paper fits in.
It advocates the creation of a new international commission for the conservation and management of Sharks that would be comparable to the IWC but at the same time, avoid the various shortcomings of that organization.

Whereas I instinctively cringe at the thought of yet another layer of bureaucracy, it is however evident that the problem is global and requires a coordinated global approach - however with ample scope for regional solutions that reflect the fact that there are huge differences between species, habitats and geographical locations.
Food for thought.


The current rate of shark global exploitation and mortality is arguably so high under current management regimes that unless a renewed initiative is undertaken some species of shark will become effectively extinct.

Current efforts to sustainably manage shark mortality are driven primarily by domestic laws in a few countries, big international non-governmental organizations (BINGOs) promoting environmental laws in the countries or regions where they exist, a handful of regional fisheries management organizations (e.g., IATTC and ICCAT), and inter-governmental organizations such as CITES.

The absence of enforcement capability is often argued as the critical component in the failure to protect sharks from overexploitation.
The remedy advanced here goes far beyond the need for stepped up enforcement, and calls for the creation of an entirely new international management regime, the International Commission for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (ICCMS). Such an agency could learn from the experiences of management bodies tasked with conservation of species biologically similar to sharks, such as the International Whaling Commission (IWC), to improve its efficacy. Critics have identified many organizational flaws that reduced the IWC’s effectiveness during its earliest years. Some of those flaws are examined here and remedies are suggested that an ICCMS could use to create a more effective management regime. The life histories of elasmobranches and large whales are compared to illustrate their similarities as a biological foundation for the selection of the IWC as a model.

5. Conclusions and discussion

Now is the time to establish an effective international body dedicated to sustainably manage and conserve shark species.

Many shark populations continue to decline and the status of others is unknown, often because of the absence of basic demographic information. As noted, the category of shark is a subset of the larger group of elasmobranches. This document focuses upon sharks because they are generally wider ranging, and of greater public appeal. Nevertheless, an organization such as described in this paper would inevitably consider all elasmobranchs.

Amongst the differences between shark and cetacean species is that the former are a significant component of incidental catch in longline and trawl fisheries.
Cetaceans occasionally become entangled in fishing gear, but the level of incidental catch for most species is relatively low compared to sharks. Unlike sharks, cetacean interactions with fishing gear are more frequently the result of specific targeting by fishers than by incidental bycatch.
Consequently, fishers targeting cetaceans have more control over which species are landed.

The survival of any species ultimately rests on the health of its supporting populations.
Monitoring the status of many marine species often requires observed individuals to act as a proxy for the rest of the populations hidden beneath the surface of the ocean.
This raises a second key difference between sharks and cetaceans; the necessity of the latter to breathe at the surface makes them far more visible and more avoidable. Because the biology of sharks do not require regular trips to the surface, none of the techniques used to assess and monitor cetacean populations are viable for monitoring shark populations, making estimation of shark abundance and demography far more difficult. For this reason, it is common to estimate the size of an entire shark population by extrapolation from a limited number of individual observations based on incidental bycatch, using stock assessment models.

Establishing an ICCMS could provide a repository for shark population data, potentially increasing the accuracy of management tools, such as stock assessment models.
Retrospective analyses of international organizations have facilitated the identification of many of the problems that reduced the effectiveness of the IWC during its formative years. An ICCMS is likely to face many of the same problems encountered by the IWC. For an ICCMS to be effective it must establish rules that allow selective incentives to be used to improve cooperation during decision making. It must also establish inter-governmental organization to promote its goals and objectives on an international stage.

Potentially of greatest importance is the establishment of relationships with epistemic communities.
The international community is more interconnected than ever before. Likewise, the relationships between independent scientists, government representatives, and members of epistemic communities are more intimate. This intimacy is likely to be the most effective tool an ICCMS would have to address the need for international management of sharks.

The issues involved in managing a highly migratory, straddling stocks like sharks, requires both international cooperation and domestic involvement and resource allocation.
Effective management of sharks is simultaneously too international and too local for any one group to effectively address the problem
, a sentiment echoed as a fundamental principle underlying the CMSMoU on sharks.

An ICCMS would represent the physical embodiment of the conservation goals and cooperative efforts needed to sustainably manage shark resources.

Such an entity could be vital in addressing some of the most basic questions facing shark management and conservation, such as the extent of these specific stock declines and the methods most suitable for evaluating them.
Without an ICCMS, the current management of shark species will likely remain unchanged with little chance of sustainably managing any shark stocks on a global scale. Likewise, without such an entity there will be no global check on the wasteful practice of shark finning.

The need for taking action to sustainably manage and conserve species of sharks is incontrovertible.
Whether an ICCMS is the optimal solution or action is debatable, and likely will be debated by colleagues in the now extensive epistemic community. For these reasons and for brevity, this paper does not propose the specific structure for an ICCMS despite highlighting ways such an entity could address the shortcomings of the IWC.

5.1. Afterward

Sharks are among the most threatened groups of marine species.

This paper has emphasized shark conservation and management issues drawing the attention of international governmental organizations and big international non-governmental organizations (BINGOs). The entities currently involved with international shark conservation and management range from the Food and Agriculture (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) via the International Plan of Action (IPOA-Sharks) and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); to Regional Fisheries Management Organizations; and international governmental organizations such as the Convention on Migratory Species and Wild Animals (CMS) and the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES); and organizations such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as well as many others.

Despite these international efforts, increasing demand for shark fins and cartilage, sport fishing, and bycatch have led to the depletion of shark stocks that are 30% lower than two decades ago, and the lack of adequate conservation measure continues to drive several species close to extinction.

These words paraphrase a summary of a February 2010 CMS meeting and the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on the conservation of migrating shark species.
It is serendipity that this meeting occurred just after acceptance of this paper by Marine Policy. The MOU would limit fisheries-related mortality of sharks to sustainable levels, with an emphasis on 7 species in particular [great white, basking, whale(shark), porbeagle, spiny dogfish, shortfin, and longfin mako sharks], but excludes other important shark species.
Although the MOU prohibits the contentious practice of shark finning, mortality from bycatch and recreational fishing is not considered.
Despite the signing of the MOU by many of the CMS participating delegates, some key countries refused to sign, despite its non-binding nature.

The CMS meeting was followed the next month by CITES’ 15th Conference of Parties.
The meeting considered a slate of proposals, including protection of 8 shark species under Appendix II, and the Atlantic bluefin tuna under Appendix I. The 8 shark species denied listings were: the porbeagle, the scalloped, great, and smooth hammerheads, oceanic whitetip, and the spiny dogfish. The sandbar and dusky sharks were withdrawn and not proposed. Approval for listing would have limited trade on these species.

Signing of the CMSMOU, while non-binding, signaled a limited willingness by a few nations to take tangible, multi-lateral, steps toward shark conservation. The lack of action to list several shark species under the CITES appendices suggests an unwillingness to take more binding action.

The truly unfortunate aspect of failing to list these species under CITES, is that CITES can more effectively promote conservation because listing allows a country to enforce the trade limitations of Appendix I or II, regardless of whether capture occurred within its own EEZ or not. Failure to list the bluefin tuna, despite a local RFMO, further reinforces the point of this paper.

The effectiveness of an ICCMS will likely depend on a multi-pronged approach that engages member nations and promotes willingness to look beyond self-interest, as well as engaging non-governmental groups with the potential to promote shark conservation and management.


Patric Douglas said...

I have to disagree and perhaps throw this thought in.

The planet lost sustainability with it's human population sometime back around two billion people or so ago.

The root cause to 98% of the global fisheries problems are, humans. Not just the take of fish, but toxins, argi business, habitat destruction.

We have left the solar economy and are living on the back of the oil economy, the planets biggest and most dangerous epoch making bubble. Makes the housing bubble look like a Amish picnic.

As with any conservation effort you always drill down to the root cause and try and effect that first.

Is it possible to stem the global tide of humans?

Or are we doing it ourselves creating an oceanic epoch that eventually, within 200 years or so, will see a global human population hovering at 9-10 billion pulling from a toxic ocean that holds no wild fish, just farmed sea cows that taste like salmon/lobster?

Interesting thought.

DaShark said...

Yup but we gotta try don't we - or why are we clamoring & stomping our feet if e'thing is f... anyway.

We'll certainly end up with a less biodiverse, less beautiful planet.
All we can do is try and keep the damage as small as we possibly can and hopefully, the Ocean will be much less affected that terrestrial habitats.
It sure is a mighty big piece of real estate and I'm not willing to give up quite yet.

Shark Diver said...

Never said give up exactly, to try is the best part of being human.

But lets also pull aside the Green Curtain on overpopulation and start having that tricky convo before it is really too late.

DaShark said...

All yours buddy! :)

Gotta choose one's fights & this just aint mine!

Patric Douglas said...

On it, between SFMI, a commercial operation, a film project, and a life (of sorts).

No worries, a quick look on the Internet shows the last time anyone dared approach this subject was an Op Ed in 2009.

DaShark said...

Lemme take a wild guess.
What you're gonna find are on the causal side, religion and oppression of women; an as the main consequence, abject poverty.

But I don't believe population growth to be the principal problem: IMO, it now is the increase of the individual ecological footprints of the people in the emerging economies.

As an example, just think of the increasing demand for Shark fin soup triggered by a burgeoning middle class in China.

So, are we to keep those people poor?

As I said: all yours! :)