Most Sharks And Rays Caught In Mediterranean Are Unidentified, Hampering Conservation Efforts

Source: Hakai Magazine/Munyaradzi Makoni 

Photo: Mark Conlin/NOAA/Wikimedia Commons

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The Mediterranean has historically had a high diversity and abundance of elasmobranchs (sharks and rays), but inadequate record-keeping and ambiguous identification is putting many species in peril and some at risk of extinction. Aware that protected species and those with low commercial value, including sharks and rays, are poorly reported, Madeline Cashion and colleagues at the University of British Columbia’s Sea Around Us project investigated the catch data recorded with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and found it lacking.

What was missing in the catches from 1950 to 2014 was identity. A whopping 97 percent of landed catches in the Mediterranean and Black Seas were not identified to species and many were categorized simply as sharks or rays.

“I was shocked to find only 27 species since 1950 were recorded, when we know far more identified species have in fact been caught,” Cashion says.

And it’s not just a problem around the Mediterranean. Only about one-third of the global shark and ray catch is identified at the species level, says Nick Dulvy, cochair of the shark specialist group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The rest are lumped into categories of varying resolution, such as skates, which might include tens of species. “We have known for at least two decades that aggregated catches mask overfishing and local extinctions,” he says.

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Photo: Mark Conlin/NOAA/Wikimedia Commons

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