"Sharks is where they really dropped the ball," said Elizabeth Wilson, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts' international ocean policy unit, which had observer status at the gathering, which concluded Monday. "There was very little discussion about sharks. They barely even talked about it in their meetings, which is very disappointing," she said in a phone interview after the meeting ended.
"I think there are some countries that are catching a lot of sharks and they have the ability to do that in completely unregulated fisheries and they don't want catch limits. The end result is that ICCAT is failing to take action on sharks. It's a really frustrating situation," Wilson said.
Critics also attacked ICCAT's failure to take action to protect two other vulnerable shark species in the Atlantic, the shortfin mako and blue shark, as the amount of sharks taken continues to climb.
Sharks are often caught primarily for fins used in shark fin soup in Asia. Critics mentioned Japan, China and South Korea as nations that blocked measures to protect sharks at the ICCAT meeting. Canada opposed a ban on the critically endangered porbeagle shark, according to observers.
An estimated 100 million sharks are killed every year, according to a March scientific study in the journal Marine Policy, which said the number could be as high as 273 million. The study found that sharks were being overfished far beyond their ability to recover.
“Biologically, sharks simply can’t keep up with the current rate of exploitation and demand. Protective measures must be scaled up significantly in order to avoid further depletion and the possible extinction of many shark species,” said the report's lead author, Boris Worm, a marine biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, at the time the study was released.
Wilson said European nations and some other countries at the ICCAT meeting took a strong stance on shark protection, but weren't able push through protective measures.
"There were some countries trying to be proactive on sharks but it's the same countries year after year that continue to block these proposals," she said.
Published in the Los Angeles Times on November 26, 2013