Conservation Status of Sharks
Blue Shark © Linda Pitkin.

In reality humans kill many more sharks than sharks kill humans. For every fatal shark attack, it is estimated that up to 10 million sharks are killed by man. Sharks fins are now amongst the most valuable of seafood products and are primarily harvested to make Shark Fin Soup. Large ‘trophy' fins can sell for up to $20,000 each. In addition, and depending on species, shark teeth and jaws, shark liver oil, shark cartilage and meat are also highly valued. 

Sharks are typically long-lived creatures, take many years to sexually mature, have long pregnancies (in some cases up to two years) and produce relatively few young (usually 2-30). The combination of today’s highly efficient fishing techniques and a massive demand for sharks has resulted in the huge overexploitation of many shark populations. The result in many areas has been the destruction and even near-extinction of some shark populations, as well as increased shark fin prices and fishing effort. Shark species are regularly being added to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but very few countries are implementing sustainable shark fishery policies and regulations.

The analysis of the IUCN Global Shark Red List Assessment was released early in 2014, confirming that the world’s 1,041 shark, skate, ray and chimaera species (chondrichthyans) are among its most threatened animals. An estimated one quarter of all species are threatened and only one third considered safe (a smaller proportion than any other vertebrate group). The largest, most charismatic shallow water species, including angelsharks, thresher sharks and sawfishes, are under greatest threat. The Northeast Atlantic and the Mediterranean are among the world’s ‘hot-spots’ for threatened shallow water and also deepwater species – the latter because fisheries have ventured deeper here than in most other parts of the world.

Europe’s history of fisheries and fisheries research has led to a better understanding of the 102 Northeast Atlantic species than in many other regions. Relatively accurate information is available for nearly 80% of species compared to just over 50% in the global assessment enabling more informed judgements to be made. There is however, a down-side to this long history of fisheries: 38% of the 81 Northeast Atlantic species whose status could be assessed are threatened, compared with 32% of the world’s data sufficient species.

The IUCN analysis provides a vital resource for directing our conservation efforts where they are most urgently needed – for example, five of the seven most threatened families are rays or shark-like rays. Whilst it remains essential to secure effective management and protection for all chondrichthyans, the Trust hopes these findings will help swing the spotlight of concern onto those less charismatic, flat-bodied relations of sharks, which we have long campaigned for.

Related Links:

Sharks: among the world's most threatened vertebrates - Jan 2014