Population Trends in Pacific Oceanic Sharks and Shark Finning

Published online on 30. October 2012

Population Trends in Pacific Oceanic Sharks and the Utility of Regulations on Shark Finning

Shelley C. Clarke, Shelton J. Harley, Simon D. Hoyle, Joel S. Rice


Accurate assessment of shark population status is essential for conservation but is often constrained by limited and unreliable data. To provide a basis for improved management of shark resources, we analyzed a long-term record of species-specific catches, sizes, and sexes of sharks collected by onboard observers in the western and central Pacific Ocean from 1995 to 2010. Using generalized linear models, we estimated population-status indicators on the basis of catch rate and biological indicators of fishing pressure on the basis of median size to identify trends for blue (Prionace glauca), mako (Isurus spp.), oceanic whitetip (Carcharhinus longimanus), and silky (Carcharhinus falciformis) sharks. Standardized catch rates of longline fleets declined significantly for blue sharks in the North Pacific (by 5% per year [CI 2% to 8%]), for mako sharks in the North Pacific (by 7% per year [CI 3% to 11%]), and for oceanic whitetip sharks in tropical waters (by 17% per year [CI 14% to 20%]). Median lengths of silky and oceanic whitetip sharks decreased significantly in their core habitat, and almost all sampled silky sharks were immature. Our results are consistent with results of analyses of similar data sets. Combined, these results and evidence of targeted fishing for sharks in some regional fisheries heighten concerns for sustainable utilization, particularly for oceanic whitetip and North Pacific blue sharks. Regional regulations that prohibit shark finning (removal of fins and discarding of the carcass) were enacted in 2007 and are in many cases the only form of control on shark catches. However, there is little evidence of a reduction of finning in longline fisheries. In addition, silky and oceanic whitetip sharks are more frequently retained than finned, which suggests that even full implementation of and adherence to a finning prohibition may not substantially reduce mortality rates for these species. We argue that finning prohibitions divert attention from assessing whether catch levels are sustainable and that the need for management of sharks should not be addressed by measures that are simple to implement but complex to enforce and evaluate.

Conservation Biology. Early View Version. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2012.01943.x



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