Portuguese and Spanish scientists demand immediate action to save Mako sharks

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Portuguese and Spanish shark specialists and researchers sent a public letter to the European Union (EU) and the Portuguese and Spanish Governments to demand that urgent and decisives measures be taken for the protection of one of the most endangered species of the Northern Atlantic: the Shortfin mako shark.
This request comes at a critical time, being that representatives from the main countries involved in this shark’s captures will soon discuss its fisheries management measures within the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). The usual yearly ICCAT meeting was postponed, but it seems that this topic will be discussed by correspondence.

“Human pressure is putting the survival of one of the most emblematic species of our planet under serious threat” said Nuno Queiroz, one of the signatories of the letter and researcher at CIBIO-InBio of the Porto University. “Overfishing is the main threat that North Atlantic Mako sharks are facing. The population is in such a poor state that we need to completely stop captures, intentional and unintentional, for it to recover in the next 25 years. This is why we need ambitious management measures from the EU and the Spanish and Portuguese Governments – to put this species on track to recovery”, concluded the researcher.
Longline vessels targeting tuna and swordfish are responsible for most of the Mako shark mortality. While some longline fishers try to avoid areas of high Mako concentration, so as to avoid accidental bycatch of this species, huge amounts of sharks are still incidentally and fatally captured by their fishing gear. Once the sharks are caught, rightfully or wrongly, these fishing vessels then sell whatever they can on the market. This has now turned Spain into one of the biggest commercial traders of sharks worldwide. Together with Portugal, these two countries now represent over half of all the catches of North Atlantic Shortfin Mako. Hence Spain, Portugal and the EU in general play an essential role in the conservation of mako sharks.
The lack of appropriate management measures has brought this emblematic species to the edge of collapse. Scientists claim that prohibiting the retention of Mako sharks on board of fishing vessels – together with management measures to prevent incidental catches and collect further information on their distribution and reproduction areas – would be the adequate path to follow to protect this endangered species. Some countries are making proposals in line with these recommendations to ICCAT – the question is whether the EU will follow and support such claims. So far, they have failed to do so.
The inclusion of the Shortfin mako in the Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) in August 2019 highlighted the alarming conservation status of this species. The challenge is not an easy one, but recovering the population of Mako sharks is essential to ensure a sustainable and healthy ecosystem in the Atlantic. The EU should be a champion for mako conservation and recovery, not a leader in keeping these sharks on a pathway to collapse.

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