New Landings Ban by Top Shark Fishing Power Could Take a Big Bite Out of Overfishing

London, February 1, 2021. Conservationists are heralding action by the Spanish government to protect one of the world’s most valuable and threatened shark species, the shortfin mako. A new moratorium on landing, sale, and trade applies to the particularly depleted North Atlantic population and has potential to put a significant dent in serious, long-term overfishing.

Spain ranks first in the world for shortfin mako catch and is responsible for about half of North Atlantic landings. Scientists have long recommended dramatic cutbacks in North Atlantic mako fishing, starting with a complete ban on retention. Until now, only Canada has heeded this advice.

Spain’s decision applies to 2021 catches from all Spanish vessels, regardless of whether they fish in domestic waters or the North Atlantic high seas. Sale of Spain’s 90t mako stockpile will not be allowed.

“We welcome Spain’s mako ban, albeit long overdue, as a significant advance in shark conservation,” said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust. “The policy is based on expert advice and aligns with myriad policy commitments. We urge the Spanish government to confirm, maintain, and extend this much needed protection, and encourage other mako fishing nations to follow suit.”

The European Commission has only recently proposed the first EU fishing quotas for North Atlantic shortfin makos. The 288t limit — a serious departure from the scientific advice — is yet to be approved by EU Fisheries Ministers.

The EU was more proactive with its support for the 2019 listing of mako sharks under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Countries around the world are now obligated to ensure that mako exports and landings introduced from the high seas come from legal, sustainable fisheries. A December 2020 opinion from the EU’s trade review panel concluded that EU Member States should cease all shortfin mako trade sourced from the North Atlantic. This action appears to be the catalyst for Spain’s ban.

International fishery restrictions for this population are the responsibility of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Proposals for an ICCAT North Atlantic shortfin mako ban have support from at least 15 countries but have been repeatedly blocked by the EU.

Spain’s mako ban is becoming public just as a major study in Nature warns that global oceanic shark abundance has plunged 71% since 1970, leaving three-quarters of species threatened with extinction.

Study co-author and Shark Advocates International President, Sonja Fordham, added

“If Spain — the world’s top mako fishing nation — holds firm and finally heeds scientific advice, we have a real chance to save this beleaguered shark population from irreparable collapse. Success depends on the immediate adoption of similar mako bans by other EU Member States and North Atlantic-wide protection through ICCAT.”