Sharks play an essential rol in the health of our oceans

Threats to Sharks and Rays

Over 75% of fish stocks are already being fully exploited or overexploited. Only one out of every three fishes caught actually reaches our plate. If that isn’t a hard enough pill to swallow, the fishing industry each year accidentally catches and discards seven million tons of marine animals, including sharks.


Bycatch on so-called ‘long lines’

It is hardly surprising, then, that shark populations around the world are on the verge of collapse as a result of overfishing and ‘bycatch’. According to recent analysis from IUCN’s Red List, at least 17 percent of shark and ray species face imminent extinction, and that includes a third of all open-ocean or pelagic sharks. In reality, these figures are probably much higher: we simply don’t have complete data for all known species.

Every year, an estimated 100 million sharks are killed, mainly for their fins. In the year 2000, the fins of 26 to 73 million were handled in the international fin trade – en the demand for shark fin soup has only soared since then. Strong concern has risen about the damage caused by non-sustainable global fisheries the shrinking shark populations. After removing the fins, the sharks are thrown back in the ocean alive. A wasteful but also very cruel practice. Due to this, boats can collect large numbers of fins. In the European Community, the loopholes in the anti-finning now seem to be closed: boats can only land complete sharks.

Cutting off the fins of a live shark (picture Sea Shepherd)


Manta rays and mobulas are now frequently caught for their fins and their gill rakers, that the animals use for filter feeding. The rakers are used in traditional medicine in the Far East, where they fetch a whopping 500 USD per kilo.

Now that shark stocks are strongly decreasing, the cartilage of rays is more and more often, and manta and mobula are now target fisheries.


Shark fins in Taiwan

The reproduction of sharks and rays is slow. They mature late en their litters is small. They are therefore also excellent indicators for overfishing: the worse the situation of elasmobranchs is getting, the worse the situation for other fish stocks probably is. And the high price for fins has caused the global shark fishery to expand far beyond what is sustainable. The need for international regulation and enforcement has never been greater.

Despite the increasing threats, sharks are not sufficiently protected. These magnificent predators of the ocean act as critical regulators of marine ecosystems. Without sharks, ecosystems that might be teeming with wildlife and seemingly inexhaustible sources of food would soon become barren seascapes, devoid of all life. Through the effective management of fisheries and habitats, sharks have the potential to recover, but only if we act now.


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