Is Sustainability Feasible?
Which raises the question: is sustainable shark fishing possible?Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Many in the fishing community think it is. Those who hold this view claim the answer lies in enforcing regulations already in place.
“Saying there is no level where a shark fishery is sustainable is total nonsense; there is always a level at which a fishery is sustainable,” the Australian expert says. “I suspect for shark fisheries to survive and become properly managed, it would require a moratorium on all fishing for a period of time. Exactly how long that is would be for the scientists to say.”
He adds, “Remember though, many fisheries written off by the doomsdayers have rebounded to be better than ever after a hiatus, including the North Sea Herring Fishery. Fish are remarkably resilient creatures.”
Dr. Robert E. Hueter of the Mote Marine Laboratory echoes this view, telling The Diplomat that “given a scenario of no overfishing and only in regulated areas, sustainable shark fishing is certainly possible.”
He continues: “Of course, sustainable means strict limits on the catch by species and size, and there are many species for which sustainability is probably not economically feasible—but not all. For example, the blacktip shark of the southeastern U.S. coast is a candidate for sustainable fishing due to its current healthy state, relatively fast growth and catchability.”
Adds Clarke, the marine biologist, “Different species and fisheries ideally would be managed according to their unique characteristics and status…It should be noted that even if shark targeting is banned, a substantial take of sharks will continue in the form of incidental catch.”
Some countries are further ahead of the curve than others. In terms of countries that are tracking and monitoring their finning operations, Hueter notes, “The United States has made tremendous progress over the past 20 years to rein in commercial and recreational fisheries for sharks. Although we are not quite there yet, we are very close to rebuilding depleted shark populations and managing sustainable shark fisheries.” Hueter also praises Australia for its progress in moving towards sustainability, but added, “Neither country’s track record is perfect but both provide encouraging models.”
Fordham also lists the salmon shark off the U.S. North Pacific coast as an example of a sustainably fished shark species, and added Canada and New Zealand to the list of countries that “regulate and assess shark fisheries more than most other countries.”
According to Tony Hoyer, an Australian seafood exporter, Australia’s efforts have proven effective, to say the least. “In some fisheries like the snapper fishing area in West Australia, shark fishing has been banned for 20 years,” he tells The Diplomat. “There are so many sharks there that it’s hard to land a fish before a shark eats it off your line. Sharks need culling like lots of species. Even white pointers are in plague numbers in some places again.”
Hoyer adds, “Most near extinct shark have not been targeted for their fins. The fin trade got a bad name because of footage of a live shark being thrown overboard, which I’m against. This still happens, but not in Australia, New Zealand or any country with a sustained managed fishery.”