The iconic shortfin mako shark, which has been classified as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species since 2019, received some much-needed good news this holiday season. On Nov. 23, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), an intergovernmental organization of many of the world’s fishing nations, agreed to a two-year ban on the retaining, shipping, or landing of the endangered North Atlantic shortfin mako shark to allow the species to recover.
This proposal from the ICCAT Chair, supported by member nations — including Canada, the United Kingdom, Senegal, and Gabon — was ultimately agreed to by all participating parties by the end of the 27th annual ICCAT meeting. Since then, ICCAT released a recommendation that must now be followed by member nations. This ban means that tuna and swordfish fleets in the Atlantic and surrounding waters are blocked from keeping any shortfin mako sharks they catch. This measure is significant because fishers that use longline fishing gear to target swordfish, yellowfin tuna, and other tunas regularly capture shortfin mako sharks and keep them to sell commercially.
In the past, the United States and European Union have opposed such a ban on shortfin makos. However, in preparation for this year’s ICCAT meeting, Oceana and our allies rallied support for the proposal across Congress and the federal government, leading to this victory. Oceana thanks Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), and Darren Soto (D-Fla.) for leading the charge in a letter to the Biden administration on the importance of a retention ban for North Atlantic shortfin makos. With the EU landing 74% of the North Atlantic shortfin mako catch in 2020 and the United States catching 9%, the ban signifies a major international breakthrough that will give these sharks a fighting chance at survival.
World’s Fastest Shark
Known for their incredible acrobatic hunting displays and record-breaking speed, shortfin mako sharks are considered top dogs of the ocean food web. Adults can swim up to 45 miles per hour and have no known natural predators.
Unfortunately, the world’s fastest shark hasn’t been able to outrun the threat of extinction. The species’ slow growth rate and small number of young has contributed to dangerous declines in the population; and since shortfin makos are hunted for their meat, for their fins, and for sport, these sharks are at an extremely high risk from commercial overfishing as well as accidental capture in fisheries for other species, particularly in the North Atlantic. Without increased conservation and management efforts, North Atlantic shortfin mako populations may continue declining to a grave degree, which is why ICCAT’s decision is such a crucial first step in the long-term recovery of this globally threatened species.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the measure will immediately reduce mortality while also establishing a process to evaluate if and when retention may be allowed in the future, in line with scientific advice. ICCAT’s own scientists have said that the shortfin mako has needed protection from catching and keeping the species since 2017.
Oceana believes the hard-fought retention ban represents a major victory that can help bring the shortfin mako back from the brink of extinction.