Thursday, January 30, 2014

What Science Says About Finning

Guest Blog
by AJ Sablan

A new IUCN study by Dulvy et al predicts that 53.9% of sharks and rays are threatened or near threatened with extinction. But this is not the only finding in the paper. Extinction Risk and Conservation of the World’s Sharks and Rays is an amazing read encompassing many facets of shark science and conservation. It should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in sharks.
Number one on Shark Defenders' list of 10 Things You Can Do to Protect Sharks is to educate yourself about the global situation of sharks. The shark conservation movement requires informed, intelligent advocates and if you are reading this I MEAN YOU! Go grab a pencil and give this study a thorough read. In the upcoming days Shark Defenders will tweet our favorite bits.

The paper includes a discussion on finning. “Bans on finning (slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea) are the most widespread shark conservation measures. While these prohibitions, particularly those that require fins to remain attached through landing, can enhance monitoring and compliance, they have not significantly reduced shark mortality or risk to threatened species.”

This is the third peer reviewed scientific paper to question the hypothesis that shark finning reduces mortality. Clarke et al and Worm et al published papers with similar findings in 2013. Clarke et al writes, “Even a fully effective prohibition on finning would not address the primary source of mortality to these species.” Meanwhile, Worm et al writes, “Finning regulations do not appear to have reduced the volume of fins traded in global or regional markets.”

Clarke et al goes even one step further by saying, “Prohibitions on shark finning divert management focus toward shark handling and utilization processes and away from assessing whether current catch levels are sustainable.”

Read that sentence carefully. The leading shark scientists on the planet say that repeated calls to “stop finning” are taking focus away from policies that actually protect sharks.

Conservation organizations have often advocated for reductions in fishing by messaging the horrors of finning. This has led to lots of confusion. Shark finning and shark fishing are very different things. Shark finning determines how a shark is killed, not how many.

The scientific community is now in nearly universal agreement that shark finning bans do not reduce mortality, and many shark conservation organizations other than those that focus on animal welfare, have not caught up with them. They need to.

Many of us who care about sharks do not see sharks as fish, but rather as wildlife. And as wildlife, we want to see them alive so that they can inspire and amaze us, and so that they can continue to perform their roles in the marine ecosystem as top level predators. We need to move away from using shocking images to advocate for policies that do not lead to more sharks, and instead focus on advocating for policies that will ensure their survival, like catch limits and prohibitions, including shark sanctuaries.

Dulvy, et al. (2014), Extinction risk and conservation of the world’s sharks and rays. eLife.
Clarke, S. C., Harley, S. J., Hoyle, S. D. and Rice, J. S. (2013), Population Trends in Pacific Oceanic Sharks and the Utility of Regulations on Shark Finning. Conservation Biology, 27: 197–209.
Worm, et al. (2013), Global catches, exploitation rates, and rebuilding options for sharks. Marine Policy.


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