The start of any new year is a time to both reflect on the past, and to look forward. As we enter 2023, the Shark Trust takes a look at progress of shark conservation in 2022 and thinks about the challenges still to be faced.

Last year was hailed as a huge success for shark and ray conservation. And it’s true that significant steps were made. Taking in some of the headlines might give the impression that the work to conserve sharks and rays was pretty much done. Maybe shark conservationists can now pack their bags and head for a well-deserved holiday in 2023. Sadly, that’s not the case. In fact, the next few years of shark advocacy will be vital to the survival of many species. So, what did happen in 2022 and what does it all mean?


Possibly the biggest headlines in 2022 arose from the CITES (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Conference of Parties, held in Panama in November.  After considerable debate, all four proposals to list ~100 additional sharks & rays on Appendix II were eventually passed. These proposals cover previously unlisted requiem sharks (such as reef sharks and Blue Sharks) and hammerheads, as well as guitarfishes and freshwater stingrays.

CITES Appendix II lists species “not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled”. While not universally welcomed, the listing of the requiem sharks has been heralded as a game changer, with 90-95% of shark species involved in the global fin trade now covered by the treaty.

But, before we all go wild with celebrations, let’s talk about what this listing actually means. CITES concerns trade across borders. Should shark fishing nations wish to export their catch, or the processed products, then an export permit or certificate is needed. Importantly, this also applies to “importing” catch from international waters, of particular note for heavily fished oceanic sharks. A permit can only be granted “if the relevant authorities are satisfied that certain conditions are met, above all that trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild”. So, in theory, the CITES listing should be a stimulus for sustainable fisheries management. But it doesn’t stop all fishing. If a country wants to continue fishing listed sharks in their waters for their own consumption, they can do so freely. For the EU, a major shark fishing power, listed species can be traded across 27 member states without permits. And where import/export is involved, there’s a considerable management and enforcement burden, which not all countries are equally equipped to deliver. CITES listing is a very positive step but there’s definitely still work to be done.

Fin Trade

Always an emotive issue in shark conservation, fins were a hot topic in 2022. Finning – the removal of a shark’s fins at sea and dumping of the body back in the water – is widely banned. But fears persist that the fin trade continues to drive shark fisheries and illegal finning.  Driven by vocal public campaigns, initiatives in the US, UK and now the EU have been pushing governments towards stricter controls on the trade in fins.

The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act in the US passed the Senate in December, effectively banning all commercial trade in fins – whether from a sustainable source or not. The proponents of the action declared “a major victory for sharks”, claiming the act will “remove [the USA] from the global shark fin trade”. But it’s not supported in all corners. Critics fear that the move “would undermine sustainable shark fisheries, would have little effect on global shark mortality, and would perpetuate the misconception that the shark fin trade is the only threat facing sharks.” Time will tell.


The more nuanced UK Shark Fins Bill passed its 3rd reading in the House of Commons early in 2023 and is expected to be passed into law before the year is out. The Bill proposes to commit Fins Naturally Attached (FNA) into UK law, and bolster import and export laws: banning the trade in detached fins in and out of the UK. Meanwhile, in Europe, a citizens initiative demanding stronger fin trade restrictions, gathered over a million signatures and is now being considered by the EU.

As western countries clamp down on domestic fin trade, the challenge for conservationists is to adapt to changing global markets and ensure that a tight focus is kept on managing fisheries that supply all markets, not just fins.


Hot on the heels of the CITES CoP came another large international meeting. The UN Biodiversity Conference (CoP15) in Montreal went to the wire with a last-minute agreement by “nearly all countries” to commit to protecting 30% of the world’s land and seas by 2030. It’s estimated that 8% of the ocean is currently protected, so this is potentially a big step forward for all marine life. But, as with CITES, the devil is in the detail. Previous agreements haven’t covered themselves in glory – the last 10-year agreement was accused of failing to fully achieve a single target. And, that issue of equity comes up again. In reaching the eventual agreement there were hours of tense debate over funding and the need to respect the rights of indigenous people.

When it comes to sharks and rays, does protecting large areas of the ocean deliver the protection they need? Well, that depends. They do have a tendency to move around. So not all of a population’s range will necessarily be covered by lines on a map. So, when allocating areas for protection, quality will be at least as important as quantity. Where the areas are designated and how they can be managed and enforced are vital considerations, particularly for mobile species.

In a review of “Conservation successes and challenges for wide ranging sharks and rays” published in January, the authors evidenced a reduction in extinction risks where there is science-based fisheries management and well enforced governance. On Marine Protected Areas they note “no-take MPAs have the potential to make a difference in some developing countries where direct fisheries management is currently challenging” but that shark MPA’s “have had limited influence because they were created without the additional resources necessary for enforcement of spatial restrictions on fishing.”

So, once more, there’s plenty to be done.

High Sea Fisheries

The message seems clear. Fisheries management, working in parallel with trade restrictions and spatial protection, must be at the heart of all things shark conservation. And there is growing evidence that it works.

A recent study looking at “Seventy years of tunas, billfishes, and sharks as sentinels of global ocean health” highlights that “After almost three decades of decline, tuna and billfishes have begun to recover because of proactive fisheries management approaches.”  But not sharks which “have received much less conservation attention, [and] have continued to decline.”

But there is also good news on this front. In November, always a busy month for shark conservation, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) agreed the world’s first population-wide fishing quota for highly vulnerable South Atlantic Shortfin Mako sharks.

At long last, ICCAT has ended the free-for-all that was South Atlantic mako fishing,” said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for Shark Trust. “Although more lenient than a ban, the new mako landing limits are well placed to achieve a substantial reduction in fishing pressure on the South Atlantic population. We thank the UK and EU for prompting these negotiations and seeing them through to a meaningful result on which we must continuously and ambitiously build.”

This result follows a retention ban ruling for the North Atlantic in 2021 and the imposition of a catch limit on the heavily fished Blue Sharks in 2019.

And at the far northwest of the Atlantic, 2022 also saw historic international protection finally granted to the world’s longest-living vertebrate, the Greenland Shark. Living for up to 400 years and thought to mature at 150, this exceptionally vulnerable species is now protected from targeted fisheries and attention will focus on efforts to reduce incidental catch.

So what about 2023 & beyond?

It’s clear that those wishing to protect sharks and rays still have plenty of work to do.  Science is a vital tool in this effort and there’s been huge progress in recent years, thanks to a global collaborative effort. This has highlighted both the primary cause – excessive fishing – and powerful and proven solutions.

Achieving sustainability across national and international waters will be a long-term collaborative effort. In February as United Nations member countries gather again to hammer out an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction. At this fifth negotiating session, countries are expected to finalize a legal framework to establish a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) on the high seas, and to conduct environmental impact assessments in these ocean areas. 


For sharks, we need to continue forging a pathway to rebuild populations of sharks and rays by putting science at the heart of shark conservation and fisheries management. And catalysing the vital changes needed to set populations on the road to recovery. 


None of this can happen in a vacuum. Shark conservationists need resources, time and public support. At the end of 2022, the we launched a campaign aimed at tackling high seas shark fisheries. The Big Shark Pledge is bringing together an international community of support for when it’s most needed to put pressure on governments and fisheries. And make the positive changes required to safeguard these awesome sharks. 


Was 2022 the Year of the Shark? Well, it had its moments. But we need 2023, 24, 25 and on to continue this positive trend.