Sunday, March 03, 2013

97 Million - Paper!

I finally got my hands on the paper!
Published, undoubtedly by pure coincidence, on the eve of the CITES CoP, it comes to the conclusion that as of 2010, the annual number of Sharks that were being killed by fishing-related activities was about 97 million, this within a total range of possibly 61 to 267 million (for 2010).

This is obviously a massive increase over previous estimates.
But whereas Shelley Clarke has analyzed the data from the Shark fin trade, the authors have analyzed Shark fishing data and have added estimates about discards and IUU.
Thus, the numbers are not directly comparable.

So what's the infamous Magic Number now.
97 million as stated in the paper, 100 million as already posted everywhere or up to 267 million in line with what was being done with regards to the Clarke numbers?

And incidentally, could somebody please post the paper online so that the public can at least consult the source? Pew?
NOTE: done, see at bottom!

Adequate conservation and management of shark populations is becoming increasingly important on a global scale, especially because many species are exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing. Yet, reported catch statistics for sharks are incomplete, and mortality estimates have not been available for sharks as a group. 
Here, the global catch and mortality of sharks from reported and unreported landings, discards, and shark finning are being estimated at 1.44 million metric tons for the year 2000, and at only slightly less in 2010 (1.41 million tons). 

Based on an analysis of average shark weights, this translates into a total annual mortality estimate of about 100 million sharks in 2000, and about 97 million sharks in 2010, with a total range of possible values between 63 and 273 million sharks per year. 

Further, the exploitation rate for sharks as a group was calculated by dividing two independent mortality estimates by an estimate of total global biomass. As an alternative approach, exploitation rates for individual shark populations were compiled and averaged from stock assessments and other published sources. 
The resulting three independent estimates of the average exploitation rate ranged between 6.4% and 7.9% of sharks killed per year. This exceeds the average rebound rate for many shark populations, estimated from the life history information on 62 shark species (rebound rates averaged 4.9% per year), and explains the ongoing declines in most populations for which data exist. 

The consequences of these unsustainable catch and mortality rates for marine ecosystems could be substantial. Global total shark mortality, therefore, needs to be reduced drastically in order to rebuild depleted populations and restore marine ecosystems with functional top predators.
Like I never cease to repeat, the absolute numbers mean nothing unless put into context, and one must commend the authors for having finally done so and documented that global Shark fishing is totally unsustainable - something we have of course suspected all along but were never able to adequately substantiate at the global level.

From the Discussion - emphasis and links are mine.
(About Shark catch volumes)
Several explanations may account for these observations of near-stable catches and fin trade volume.
First,fishing effort likely has been geographically displaced over the last decade as the primary fishing grounds supplying the fin trade in the1990s and early 2000s became increasingly depleted or regulated. Additionally, catch levels may have experienced a certain amount of resiliency if fishers started using other, lower-value species or smaller  individuals that were previously discarded.
(About Shark finning bans)
Further, the apparent failure of anti-finning laws to curb global mortality may indicate that these laws have yet to be adequately enforced. 
On the other hand, anti-finning laws primarily address animal welfare and food security issues ( reduce waste). Although an important first tep, these policies are not explicitly designed to reduce catch or ensure sustainability. The premise that anti-finning legislation would contribute to sustainable fisheries  rests on the assumption that most fishermen target sharks for their fins only, and would refrain from targeting sharks if they had to retain the carcass.

This assumption is weak. 
Many countries consume shark meat and fishermen opt to land whole sharks,even if the meat is not as valuable as the fins. It is not surprising that anti-finning measures have been introduced widely given the intense public pressure that arose, especially since anti-finning laws are more palatable to industry than stringent catch reductions when local markets for the meat exist.
In contrast, the monitoring, assessment and enforcement capacity required to sustainably manage shark fisheries is often perceived by regulatory agencies as being prohibitively costly relative to the simple adoption of anti-finning legislation. Regardless, some nations have recently invested in sustainable shark fisheries management, introducing catch limits, effort control, time-area closures, and other protective measures for the most vulnerable species. In some cases, such local measures appear to have been successful in halting declines. 

The findings reported here highlight the fact that shark conservation policies generally need to focus on sustainability, as there is no evidence that a legislative focus on anti-finning has reduced global landings and shark mortality rates.
(About the IPoA Sharks and the various NPoAS)
In a recent paper, evidence for the rebuilding of depleted elasmobranch populations under management was evaluated and these authors found little general support as of yet that rebuilding was occurring.

Given the results of this paper, and much previous work on the vulnerability of sharks to overfishing, it is imperative that robust strategies for shark management and conservation be designed
...there is a general concern that localized protective measures just displace the problem into less regulated areas, including many developing countries and the high seas ... there is no evidence that global shark catch or shark fin trade is declining.
Compare to here - q.e.d.!
But now comes the interesting part, i.e. possible Solutions!
Given the failure to effectively reduce the unsustainable mortality of sharks on a global scale, there appears a need for a more binding international agreement on the protection of sharks.
This could be similar to what has been done for the global conservation of whales through the establishment of the International Whaling Commission. In that case, a globally threatened group of large marine animals was effectively saved from extinction by imposing stringent global catch regulations, and ultimately a global moratorium on commercial whaling.
It makes me instinctively cringe, both at the thought of establishing yet another layer of bureaucracy and CoPs, but also when thinking about the kind of people a moratorium by such an ISC would encourage - think Dolphinization of the Shark movement!
But if an ISC would concentrate on temporary species-specific moratoria and on managing Shark fisheries sustainably via globally binding agreements, I'd be all for it!

Chances for it to eventuate?
Assuming a ridiculously conservative average value of 50 bucks (this depending on size, species and of course market) for a complete set of fins, Shark fishing is already a multi-billion industry, and the push-back by those commercial interests and the nations doing their bidding like Japan will be tremendous.
As per my comment here, this will require political Leadership - and as we all know, that is a scarce commodity indeed!

But back to the paper.
If the goal was to at least partially rebuild depleted shark populations worldwide, what actions would be required?
Ward-Paige et al. recently reviewed the same issue for sharks.
These authors concluded that rebuilding depleted stocks is demonstrably possible, and occurs where a number of management instruments are combined to reduce mortality to an appropriately low level. This level depends both on the status of the stock, and its productivity, or rebound potential. As most shark populations have low productivity compared to other fish stocks, and stock status is typically poor or unknown, the case for ensuring a large decrease in catches and the establishment of a moratorium on fishing appears strong.

In the absence of a complete moratorium, the rebuilding of depleted shark populations requires very stringent controls on exploitation rates, the enforcement of appropriately low mortality rates, the protection of critical habitats, monitoring, and education.
Such controls have been implemented with some success in parts of the United States, for example, but would be more difficult to enforce elsewhere.

Given that the costs of these measures can be considerable and are currently carried by taxpayers in shark fishing nations, some of this burden could be shifted to the shark fishing and fin export industries.
Shark fins are a luxury product, which means that demand is unlikely to be curbed by modest price increases. Thus, imposing taxes on the export or import of shark fins will generate income that could be directed to these domestic shark fisheries management efforts.
I say, agree - but not quite bold enough!
Of course, those profits ought to be taxed - is that not already the case and if so, why?
But instead of further burdening the taxpayer, let us not only advocate applying the precautionary principle - let us be consistent, reverse the burden of proof and demand that the cost for coming up with that proof be fully borne by those who make the profits!

Yes I'm of course repeating myself!
  • Let the fishing industry pay for and come up with something akin to those Ecological Impact Assessments that are already ubiquitous everywhere else people meddle with nature, i.e. let them come up with independent third-party certification that the fishery is fully sustainable!
And this not only for Sharks but for all fisheries!

It has its role to play, and I cite
Another option is to focus on the most vulnerable species, particularly those that are heavily affected by the global fin trade.

CITES currently protects three of the most charismatic species, the whale, basking, and white sharks.
These species are well-known and support large dive and ecotourism industries, hence there is also an economic incentive for their protection. Many other species, however, are of similar conservation concern, yet their attempted listing under CITES has so far failed due to opposition from shark-fishing and -consuming countries.
In any case, trade bans for the most depleted species need to be combined with scientifically-based catch limits, and appropriately-sized protected areas, such as the shark sanctuaries recently established by a handful of developing nations.
Well, yes and no.
CITES listing on Appendix I bans the trade and directly protects those species. CITES II is more about establishing a paper trail and thus inhibiting IUU, which is indirect protection. Yes the rule that An export permit may be issued only ... if the export will not be detrimental to the survival of the species can be interpreted as a mandate for sustainability - but what would constitutes a permitted export under that rule is certainly wide open for interpretation!
Thus, claiming that those 3 Sharks are being protected by CITES is somewhat disingenuous as the most important conservation measures are the scientifically-based catch limits that are not being defined by CITES but instead, by individual nations and supranational treaties!

Just like this latest video by Pew.
It showcases species that are listed under CITES I so the analogy to the currently proposed Elasmobranchs is somewhat cheeky.
But it's a nice video and for a good cause, so there.


PS1: the paper is online here - read it!
PS2: and here we go: an estimated 100 million sharks are killed each year – and staggeringly, perhaps as many as 273 million. Didn't take long did it...

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