Sustainable Use | WWF

Sustainable Use

Many populations of sharks and rays have declined because inadequate fisheries management has resulted in them being fished faster than they can replenish. Despite more than a decade of international concern, very few countries currently have fisheries management comprehensive enough to ensure that catches of sharks and rays are sustainable. As sharks and rays typically grow slowly, mature late, and produce few young they are particularly susceptible to overfishing and slow to recover from depletion. The key to fishing sharks and rays sustainably is to keep overall mortality below levels that will allow populations to remain stable or increase.

Shark and rays fisheries can become sustainable through the introduction of strong management incorporating science-based catch limits that take into account the ability of different species to replenish, and their existing conservation status. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified US Atlantic spiny dogfish fishery is one such example. There is a real urgency to improving fisheries management globally given that demand for shark and ray products, notably meat, is growing at a time when so many populations have declined. 

Sustainable use is a pragmatic approach to conservation, which combines the need to conserve species and ecosystems, the importance of livelihoods and food security in coastal communities, and the cultural significance of some wildlife products. The need to minimize waste through full utilization of the animals is an integral part of sustainable use, particularly given declining food security. Shark finning – whereby the fins are removed at sea and the carcass discarded overboard – is a serious impediment to the development of sustainable shark fisheries. All fisheries should require that require the fins remain attached to the body when sharks are brought to shore.

WWF fully supports the recommendation of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group that sharks and rays assessed on the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered and Endangered, such as the sawfishes, should mostly be protected from fishing. Fishing for other high-risk species, such as those with particularly low rates of reproduction, should be avoided unless strong fisheries management is in place. 

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