Sixty nations agree to protects sharks, but plans fail to track tuna
21 November 2004, CIESM News

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) drew up the agreement that would ban the killing of sharks for their fins in the Atlantic Ocean, a move that conservationists hope will increase protection of threatened species around the world. The agreement bans the practice of shark finning in which fishermen slice off a shark's fin and throw the carcass overboard. Shark fins are a delicacy in Asian countries and command high prices. South Korea was the only country to resist the ban on shark finning and that it has six months to consider whether it will sign the agreement.

This is the first international finning ban in the world and is a significant step forward. The ICCAT, which includes 63 nations, also agreed to collect more data on shark catches and identify nursery areas. The USA delegation also called for a reduction in the number of fishing vessels that hunt sharks, but the ICCAT left that unchanged. More than 100 million sharks are killed each year; it is estimated that 90 percent of the world's large fish-including sharks-have disappeared since 1950. Sharks are extremely slow growing, and they take many decades to recover once they are depleted.

A research program to investigate populations of Atlantic bluefin tuna has been shelved as ICCAT officials say that its 2 million-euro budget cannot accommodate the 250,000-euro cost of the program. Critics claim that it was defeated because ICCAT does not want hear the results. In particular, they charge, European government officials are worried that if stronger links were established between bluefin populations on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, there would be greater pressure to cut European tuna fishing.

The aim of the research was to develop a better understanding of the bluefin's lifecycle, and to determine if there are really two separate stocks-one in the east spawning in the Mediterranean, and one in the west Atlantic spawning in the Gulf of Mexico. Fishermen in the Mediterranean say they would probably benefit from more research and tighter quotas on their catches. Although the program was defeated, officials say they are optimistic it might be approved when the commission hold its next meeting in April.