Underwatertimes.com News Service - November 27, 2010 18:32 EST

Shark Advocates International is welcoming progress toward conserving sharks made at this week's annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). After considering a record number (six) of proposals for shark measures, the ICCAT Parties agreed to prohibit retention of oceanic whitetip sharks, restrict exploitation of hammerheads, and establish a process for penalizing countries not complying with requirements to report catches and reduce fishing pressure on shortfin mako sharks. Proposals to prohibit retention of common thresher and porbeagle sharks were rejected as was a measure to strengthen the ICCAT ban on shark "finning" by prohibiting the removal of shark fins at sea.

"ICCAT has taken significant steps toward safeguarding sharks this week, but much more must be done to effectively conserve this highly vulnerable species," said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International who serves on the US ICCAT Advisory Committee and has participated in ICCAT meetings since 2004. "We are particularly pleased with the agreements aimed at protecting oceanic whitetip sharks and reducing international trade in the fins of hammerhead sharks, as well as US efforts to conserve mako sharks."

The fins of oceanic whitetip and hammerhead sharks are prized for use in the Asian delicacy "shark fin soup." While the oceanic whitetip shark protection agreed is broad, the new ICCAT measure on hammerhead sharks includes explicit exemptions for developing coastal States to fish the species for food and report catches by genus instead of by species. To balance these exceptions, the measure calls on these countries to ensure hammerheads do not enter international trade and prevent increases in hammerhead catches.

A US proposal to limit catches of North Atlantic shortfin mako sharks in line with previous agreements and scientific advice was amended after objections to immediate catch limits were raised by Japan, Korea, and China. Instead, Parties agreed measures intended in improve compliance with requirements for reporting catch and reducing fishing pressure on the population; starting in 2013, retention of shortfin mako sharks will be prohibited for Parties not reporting their catches of the species.

The European Union (EU) failed to achieve consensus on a proposal to prohibit retention of porbeagle sharks due primarily to opposition from Canada, the only ICCAT Party with a targeted porbeagle fishery. The EU was also unsuccessful in attempts to protect common threshers, although Mexico announced the end of its exemption for the ICCAT prohibition on retaining bigeye thresher sharks won by the EU and Brazil in 2009.

The proposal to ban removal of shark fins at sea was offered for the second year in a row by Belize, Brazil, and the US. The proposal was deferred due to opposition from Japan and a desire to focus on other shark actions.

"We urge ICCAT Parties to promptly implement the shark measures agreed this week and to build upon this progress by proposing complementary international safeguards for other oceans and additional shark protections at next year's ICCAT meeting," added Fordham.