WWF Position on the Impact of Fisheries on Oceanic Sharks and Rays

Posted on April, 21 2021

In light of dramatic global declines of oceanic sharks and rays as a result of overfishing, WWF calls on contracting parties of major tuna RFMOs, who have a disproportionately large role to play in safeguarding the health of pelagic shark and ray populations, to implement a set of urgently needed measures in order to prevent extinctions and to support their recovery.
A recent study revealed that global populations of open-ocean sharks and rays have declined by 71 per cent since the 1970s due to the 18-fold increase in relative fishing pressure. Largely as a result of overexploitation, half of oceanic shark and ray species are now either critically endangered or endangered according to the IUCN Red List.
To reverse this dramatic trend, WWF is calling on all contracting parties (CPCs) of four major tuna RFMOs (regional fisheries management organizations) to implement a set of urgently needed measures – including to increase observer coverage on all industrial fishing vessels to 100 per cent by 2030 and to introduce recovery plans for all critically endangered and endangered oceanic sharks and rays by 2026 – in order to prevent extinctions of heavily depleted populations of pelagic sharks and rays and to support their recovery.
WWF believes urgent action is required to reduce the risk of further overfishing or extinction to oceanic sharks and rays in the short term. In the longer term, such actions should allow oceanic sharks and rays to start fulfilling their ecosystem functions again and maximize their value to humankind.
Sharks evolved around 400 million years ago, and have outlived dinosaurs. The 1,200+ species play many key roles in marine ecosystems. They do not simply dwell in the ocean, they shape it – making them indispensable to ocean health and the well-being of millions of people across the globe. Beyond their intrinsic value, oceanic sharks and rays are important for food, human livelihoods, tourism, and their ecological roles.
There is a narrow window of opportunity that we must seize now if we are to prevent these ancient species from becoming extinct locally or even globally.
A silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis), which inhabits Fiji's waters, on the hook of longline.
© Simon Buxton / WWF