A win for the Spanish shortfin Mako shark

Conservationists have welcomed a decision by the Spanish government to protect the shortfin mako from overfishing. A new moratorium on the landing, sale, and trade of the sharks is being hailed as a significant step forward in the global protection of the shortfin mako, which is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

A Shortfin Mako, Isurus Oxyrinchus, off the Azores, North Atlantic, September 2011. Source: Patrick Doll / Wikimedia Commons.

Spain is responsible for the largest catch of shortfin mako in the world, taking approximately half of all North Atlantic landings with a total weight of 866 tonnes during 2019, with Morocco and Portugal taking another 790t between them. The new ruling applies to the entirety of Spain’s fishing fleet, regardless of whether they fish in domestic waters or the North Atlantic. The sale of an existing 90-tonne stockpile of mako sharks has also been prohibited.

‘We welcome Spain’s mako ban, albeit long overdue, as a significant advance in shark conservation,’ said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust, a UK charity working to safeguard the future of sharks. ‘The policy is based on expert advice and aligns with myriad policy commitments. We urge the Spanish government to confirm, maintain, and extend this much-needed protection, and encourage other mako fishing nations to follow suit.’

Shortfin mako sharks are listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) regulations, which obliges fisheries to ensure that mako are caught only in legal, sustainable fisheries. The European Commission has recently proposed EU fishing quotas for shortfin makos, however, the 288-tonne quota – considered by shark conservationists to be far too generous – has yet to be approved.

The North Atlantic mako population is monitored by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which has proposed a ban on shortfin mako fishing that is supported by at least 15 countries but which has been repeatedly rejected by the EU Fisheries Commission. This is despite a December 2020 report from the EU’s trade review panel recommending that EU Member States cease all North Atlantic shortfin mako fishing, which may have been the catalyst for the Spanish moratorium.

The news of Spain’s mako ban comes just days after a study published by Nature found that globally, oceanic shark and populations have been decimated by 71 per cent over the last 50 years. Three-quarters of the 31 studied species are now threatened with extinction, a direct result of overfishing. It is estimated that more than 100 million sharks are caught – both legally and illegally – each year.

One of the study’s co-authors and Shark Advocates International president, Sonja Fordham, said: ‘If Spain – the world’s top mako fishing nation – holds firm and finally heeds scientific advice, we have a real chance to save this beleaguered shark population from irreparable collapse. Success depends on the immediate adoption of similar mako bans by other EU Member States and North Atlantic-wide protection through ICCAT.’

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