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PRESS RELEASE: Endangered Mako Sharks Get A Break

Date: November 23, 2021
International fishery managers agree to historic yet potentially short-term North Atlantic ban The Press Release is also available in: Français (French), Español (Spanish) Madrid, Spain. November 23, 2021. Conservationists are heralding a hard-fought ban on retention of North Atlantic shortfin mako sharks adopted today by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), as a first step toward reversing the decline of the seriously overfished population. The ban forms the core of a long-term international rebuilding plan, the first in the world for this exceptionally valuable, globally threatened species. ICCAT fishery managers agreed that, in 2022 and 2023, all retention of North Atlantic shortfin makos will be prohibited, an action that ICCAT scientists have advised since 2017. The EU – which has long taken the lion’s share of mako catch – insisted, however, on including a complicated formula that may offer a way for some Parties to resume landings after the reprieve. “We congratulate Canada, the UK, Senegal, and Gabon, for leading the charge to secure this historic, science-based protection for endangered shortfin mako sharks,” said Shannon Arnold, Marine Program Coordinator for Ecology Action Centre. “We celebrate this critical step today, mindful that the fight to bolster it begins tomorrow. It is crystal clear from these negotiations that the EU remains focused on reviving exploitation as soon as possible. To prevent shenanigans and backsliding in 2024, we need even more countries at the table fighting back with equal vigor to rebuild the population.” Scientists have recommended a North Atlantic shortfin mako retention ban as the most effective immediate step toward reversing decline and rebuilding the population over about 50 years. Such a ban has been repeatedly proposed by many countries but competing proposals from the EU and US for continued landings prevented progress until now. With its vast longline fleet and lax mako management, the EU remains the main threat to recovery. The EU took 74% of the 2020 North Atlantic shortfin mako catch. The EU set its first catch limit this year. Spain’s was grossly exceeded last year. “At long last, we have the basis for a game-changing rebuilding plan, but it won’t be successful if we take our eyes off the EU and their egregious intent to resume fishing a decade before rebuilding is predicted to begin,” said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust. “In this moment, however, we focus on the overwhelming chorus of concern that helped us reach this critical breakthrough. We’re deeply grateful for the ‘voices for makos’ – the continuous calls from conservationists, divers, scientists, aquarists, retailers, and elected representatives to protect this beleaguered shark.” Prized for meat, fins, and sport, shortfin makos are exceptionally valuable sharks. Slow growth makes them, and closely related longfin makos, exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing. Both of these oceanic species are classified by the IUCN as globally Endangered. Subsequent listings on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) require Parties to demonstrate that mako exports are sourced from legal, sustainable fisheries. “We’re pleased that the US has accepted the mako ban that scientists advise and hope that it signals a shift back toward leadership in shark conservation,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International. ”With all the existing commitments and warnings about the dire status of makos, this win should not have been this hard. We urge all Parties to align their ICCAT and CITES obligations for makos, and strive to augment rather than relax this crucial recovery effort.” The new measure directs scientists to examine catch trends for longfin makos, which remain unprotected outside US waters. ICCAT has yet to address scientists’ advice to limit South Atlantic shortfin mako catches but did agree to allocate among Parties the total catch limit for South Atlantic blue sharks as soon as next year. An exceptionally popular proposal to strengthen the ICCAT finning ban by prohibiting at-sea removal of fins was once again blocked by Japan.

Sharks are crucial to marine ecosystems. They maintain a balance in populations of prey species and keep the ocean healthy by removing ill or diseased animals. They are also an important resource supporting local economies through fishing and as an attraction to dive tourists. Sharks are in a global decline. Overfishing has reduced many shark populations around the world to levels that threaten their continued existence. Shark numbers have fallen by more than 80% in many cases, and the continued existence of some species is at immediate risk in some regions. Project AWARE is part of a group of organizations known as the Shark League - - advocating shark conservation in global fisheries. One of the major ways they do this is to show the importance of sharks to the dive community, which is a large sector of many countries’ tourism economies, such as South Africa’s. One specific species that the Shark League is looking to protect from overfishing is the Shortfin Mako shark in the Atlantic Ocean, where it is caught without any limits by fishing vessels mainly from the US and Europe. South Africa is an important country that decides on conservation measures for the Atlantic, via an inter-governmental decision body known as ICCAT (The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas). ICCAT has representatives from every country that fishes in the Atlantic, which meets every year to decide how much fish (tuna, swordfish, sharks etc.) can be caught in the Atlantic. Shortfin Mako sharks are caught in tuna fisheries and kept for their meat and fins. In 2019, Shortfin Mako sharks were classed as Endangered due to overfishing. Their populations are so low that fisheries scientists recommend a complete ban on catching them to give them a chance to recover. Even if catches stopped today, populations still would not return to full health until 2045. Although South Africa is a country that does not catch Mako sharks, it still has not yet supported the call to end overfishing of this species. 


We want everyone here to help Project AWARE make South Africa a Mako shark champion. As mentioned, ICCAT is the organization that makes decisions on how many fish (including Mako sharks) can be caught in the Atlantic. Despite the scientists recommending an emergency stop on all catches, there are still not enough countries calling for a ban on Mako catches. There are several countries, led by Canada and Senegal, and backed up by others such as China, Japan, Taiwan, Uruguay and Egypt that are calling to end Mako fishing, but they are being blocked by the US and the European Union. So far, South Africa has not voiced its support to end Mako shark overfishing. This is where Project AWARE needs your help in calling for South Africans to support protecting endangered Mako sharks!


We are taking action by making divers aware of the plight of the Mako, what YOU can do to help is read through and sign the pettition adressed to South Africa Minister of the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy and our Minister of the Department of Tourism, Mmamoloko Kubayi -Ngubane. You can further help our awarenes campaign by tagging #maketime4makos and #divers4mako every time you post a diving pic on your social platform of choice. This should create a vibe we hope that spreads to other divers and public alike! You can also do your PADI Aware Shark Conservation Speciality by contacting any of the PADI centres and Instructors listed below and become an ambasador for Sharks! Courses are severely discounted as we have received limited sponsorship from Project Aware to promote our cause!

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