Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Overfishing Threatens One Quarter of Sharks and Rays With Extinction

A quarter of the world’s sharks and rays are threatened with extinction according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, with ray species found to be at a higher risk than sharks. The findings are part of the first ever global analysis of these species carried out by the IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG).

Sandbar shark, one of the preferred species for shark fin soup.

The study, which comes at the start of the year marking the fiftieth anniversary of the IUCN Red List, was published in the journal eLIFE. It includes the analysis of the conservation status of 1,041 shark, ray and closely related chimaera species.

According to the findings, sharks, rays and chimaeras are at a substantially higher risk than most other groups of animals and have the lowest percentage of species considered safe—with only 23 percent categorized as "least concern."

“Our analysis shows that sharks and their relatives are facing an alarmingly elevated risk of extinction,” says Dr Nick Dulvy, IUCN SSG co-chair and Canada research chair at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. “In greatest peril are the largest species of rays and sharks, especially those living in shallow water that is accessible to fisheries.”

Overfishing is the main threat to the species, according to the paper. Reported catches of sharks, rays and chimaeras peaked in 2003 and have been dominated by rays for the last 40 years. Actual catches are likely to be grossly under-reported.

According to the paper overfishing is the main threat to the stingrays.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Unintentionally caught sharks and rays account for much of the catch, yet developing markets and depleting fishery targets have made this “bycatch” increasingly welcome. Intentional killing of sharks and rays due to the perceived risk that they pose to people, fishing gear or target species is contributing to the threatened status of at least 12 species.

“Surprisingly, we have found that the rays, including sawfish, guitarfish, stingrays, and wedgefish, are generally worse off than the sharks, with five out of the seven most threatened families made up of rays,” says Dr. Colin Simpfendorfer, IUCN SSG co-chair and professor of environmental science at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia. “While public, media and government attention to the plight of sharks is growing, the widespread depletion of rays is largely unnoticed. Conservation action for rays is lagging far behind, which only heightens our concern for this species group.”

The global market for shark fins used in shark fin soup is a major factor in the depletion of not only sharks but also some rays with valuable fins, such as guitarfish. Sharks, rays and chimaeras are also sought for their meat. Other products from these species include a Chinese tonic made from manta and devil ray gills and pharmaceuticals made from deep sea shark livers.

The global market for fins to be used in shark fin soup is a major factor in the depletion of not only sharks but also some rays with valuable fins, such as this guitarfish.

The Indo-Pacific, particularly the Gulf of Thailand and the Mediterranean Sea are the two "hotspots" where the depletion of sharks and rays is most dramatic. The Red Sea is also home to a relatively high number of threatened sharks and rays, according to the experts.

“Sharks, rays and chimaeras tend to grow slowly and produce few young, which leaves them particularly vulnerable to overfishing,” says Sonja Fordham, IUCN SSG deputy chair and president of Shark Advocates International, a project of The Ocean Foundation. “Significant policy strides have been made over the last two decades but effective conservation requires a dramatic acceleration in pace as well as an expansion of scope to include all shapes and sizes of these exceptional species. Our analysis clearly demonstrates that the need for such action is urgent.”

Sharks, rays and chimaeras are known as "cartilaginous fish" due to the fact that their skeletons are made of cartilage rather than bone. They are one of the world’s oldest and most ecologically-diverse groups of animals.

The study is the result of a collaboration of 302 experts from 64 countries.

Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The Yersinia pestis bacteria causes bubonic plague in animals and humans. Illustration based on light microscope image At 1000x. BSIP / UIG Via Getty Images

A herdsman in the Chinese autonomous region of Inner Mongolia was diagnosed with the bubonic plague Sunday, The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Plant pathologist Carolee Bull works in her home garden in State College, Pennsylvania. Carolee Bull, CC BY-ND

By Matt Kasson, Brian Lovett and Carolee Bull

Home gardening is having a boom year across the U.S. Whether they're growing their own food in response to pandemic shortages or just looking for a diversion, numerous aspiring gardeners have constructed their first raised beds, and seeds are flying off suppliers' shelves. Now that gardens are largely planted, much of the work for the next several months revolves around keeping them healthy.

Read More Show Less
Hotter temperatures have been linked to a rise in energy poverty, with more people struggling to meet their energy bills from their household income. Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Emma Charlton

The effects of climate change may more far-reaching than you think.

Hotter temperatures have been linked to a rise in energy poverty, with more people struggling to meet their energy bills from their household income, according to a new study published on ScienceDirect by researchers from Italy's Ca' Foscari University.

Read More Show Less
Naegleria fowleri (commonly referred to as the "brain-eating amoeba") is a free-living microscopic amoeba (single-celled living organism). Centers for Disease Control

As if the surging cases of coronavirus weren't enough for Floridians to handle, now the state's Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed that a person in the Tampa area tested positive for a rare brain-eating amoeba, according to CBS News. The Florida DOH posted a warning to residents to remind them of the dangers of the rare single-celled amoeba that attacks brain tissue.

Read More Show Less

Scientists are urging the WHO to revisit their coronavirus guidance to focus more on airborne transmission and less on hand sanitizer and hygiene. John Lund / Photodisc / Getty Images

The World Health Organization (WHO) is holding the line on its stance that the respiratory droplets of the coronavirus fall quickly to the floor and are not infectious. Now, a group of 239 scientists is challenging that assertion, arguing that the virus is lingering in the air of indoor environments, infecting people nearby, as The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Along the northern shores of the Gulf of Mexico, oysters live in coastal estuaries where saltwater and freshwater meet and mix. Flickr / CC by 2.0

Along the northern shores of the Gulf of Mexico, oysters live in coastal estuaries where saltwater and freshwater meet and mix.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Japan Self-Defense Forces and police officers join rescue operations at a nursing home following heavy rain in Kuma village, Kumamoto prefecture on July 5, 2020. STR / JIJI PRESS / AFP / Getty Images

Scores of people remained stranded in southern Japan on Sunday after heavy rain the day before caused deep flooding and mudslides that left at least 34 people confirmed or presumed dead.

Read More Show Less