Shark and ray meat are trading higher on international markets. This is one of the main reasons why more than 30 species of these marine animals are declining their population considerably, a recent study revealed.
Despite the fact that scientists and environmental organizations have been warning for some time about the gradual reduction of these species, the increase in demand, overfishing and accidental catches have accelerated the reduction of the populations of some thirty species.
The study, published in the journal Nature, examines 31 species of these animals of which more than half are currently considered “endangered” and “critically endangered.” The researchers found that worldwide, these species have decreased by 71% since 1970, due to the fact that the fishing pressure has multiplied by 18. Of these thirty species, three-quarters are critically endangered. Hammerhead sharks, tollos, dogfish, angel sharks, kite stingrays, and two species of shortfin sharks are some of the most threatened.
The causes of this accelerated decline are diverse, although the main one, according to the researchers, is overfishing and marine overexploitation. Some techniques in the fishing industry, such as longlines, have become popular. This form of large-scale fishing has been questioned by several organizations due to the impact it has on shark and ray populations. The method consists of long fishing lines with hooks that can vary depending on the size of the boat. According to FAO, the UN food and agriculture organization, small vessels typically fish with a few hundred hooks, while larger longliners operate with 40,000 to 50,000 hooks per day.
Although longliners catch tuna, swordfish or salmon, they accidentally catch large numbers of sharks and rays along the way. But this is not the only danger, there is also the intentional fishing of sharks and rays that reduces their populations.
“The fishing industry, semi-industrial fishing or unregulated artisanal fishing do a lot of damage to shark populations. In some species it is especially worrisome, since they take years to reach adulthood and when they do they produce few young”, Explains Fernando Rey, specialist of the World Wildlife Fund, or World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in an interview with Carbon News.
In 2019 the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (Traffic) revealed that 80% of the sharks and rays caught globally are attributed to just 10 countries, totaling 600,000 tonnes per year. Ships from Spain, Indonesia, India, the United States and Mexico topped the list between 2007 and 2017.
In terms of consumption, East Asia accounts for 90% of shark fin imports – a gastronomic luxury – with Hong Kong being the largest importer, followed by Malaysia, China and Singapore. For its part, shark and ray meat is consumed mainly in Italy, Brazil, Spain and Uruguay, which account for almost 60% of imports in the last decades.
As for the blankets (a species of the devil ray family), the main buyer is China. The trade is based mainly on the gills of these fish, with which drugs are made for blood circulation, “although scientifically it has not been proven,” warns Michel Guerrero, specialist in blankets, to Carbon News. There is also consumption of the meat of this fish in countries like Peru, says the expert. Their skin is also coveted, with it they make bags, wallets and belts.
South America, between protection and overfishing
Much work remains to be done in the region in relation to the protection of these animals. Fernando Rey, a WWF researcher, states that Only in the eastern strip of the Pacific, shared by Ecuador, Peru and Chile, there are more than 100 species between rays and sharks.
For example, the Galapagos Islands, in Ecuador, have the record of the highest concentration of sharks. However, according to Rey, “many of the most fished species are the most threatened in the region.”
Though There are regulations depending on the species, the country and the type of fishing gear, and many are protected, there is still work on conservation. Rey gives an example, “in 25 years some species of hammerhead sharks have almost completely reduced their population, they are critically endangered.” The white tip shark was one of the most captured on the high seas, “today it is almost no longer found, it is also Critically Endangered” or the thresher shark that has drastically reduced its population, he lists.
The same happens with the giant manta ray. Despite being a protected species, in December 2020 it went from being considered a vulnerable species to “Endangered” on the IUCN list, says Guerrero. A worrying situation, since these fish can only give birth between six and seven young in their 50 years of life, “their reproductive rate is very low,” he concludes.