SHARK MORTALITY RESEARCH

Ellie Matthew – March 2024

Sharks are one of the most important and charismatic species in our oceans, but new research has highlighted that despite a global effort towards their conservation, shark mortality continues to rise. 

The recently published paper by Dr Boris Worm et al provides the first comprehensive analysis on shark fishing data since the increase in regulations from Governments and Regional Fisheries Management Organisations. For over 400 million years, sharks have been dominant apex predators, keeping our oceans healthy and balanced. However, they have long been over-exploited. In the early 2000s, governments had supposedly caught up with the science and many regulations were put in place. The majority of these were focused on shark finning – an industry that was decimating global shark populations. This wasteful practice involves removing the fins from sharks before discarding the rest of the animal back into the water. 

At first glance, these regulations seemed promising. However, fisheries have used shark finning regulations as a loophole to land the entire animal, and therefore increasing the availability of shark meat in the seafood trade. Not only that, but the catch data confirms a large number of small and juvenile individuals are being landed which can have devastating effects on population structure and size. 

The research found that between 2012 and 2019 the number of sharks landed increased from 76 million to 80 million. Approximately 25 million of these were endangered shark species. However, it is not all doom and gloom. The research by Worm et al did highlight that areas with shark fishing prohibitions and accountable governance were associated with reduced mortality of sharks, illustrating that stricter measures do result in reduced shark mortality. Additionally, there are many projects around the world focusing on improving shark numbers. In both the Bahamas and Maldives, successful shark nurseries have been implemented to boost populations. 

Boris Worm and his colleague’s insightful paper highlights a need to rethink our regulations surrounding interactions between sharks and fisheries to invoke some meaningful, positive change for shark populations. 

You can read the research by Worm, Orofino, Burns, D’Costa, Feitosa, Palomares, Schiller and Bradley here: https://www.science.org/doi/abs/10.1126/science.adf8984

Photo Credit: Wirestock

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