Sharks have long aroused our admiration and fear. However, a growing body of scientific evidence shows that instead of fearing sharks that have killed fewer people in a year than risks such as crash while taking colorful selfies and meetings with vending machines– You have to be afraid for sharks. The latest figures from the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature show that almost one third of all known species of sharks and their relatives considered endangered. This is one of the highest rates among any vertebrate group. And since sharks play crucial roles in marine and coastal ecosystems, on which billions of people depend for their livelihoods and food security, the challenge of conserving these amazing and misunderstood species should concern us all.
More people than ever know about the shark conservation crisis and want to help, and that’s great news. However, many people with good intentions often do not know the real causes – and solutions – of this crisis, which leads to wasted efforts at best and at worst. harm because they are trying to support. This dilemma of conservation has inspired the last decade of my research and social science work. It also inspired my new book, Why sharks are important: a deep dive with the most obscure predator in the world, which synthesizes hundreds of scientific papers and reports to inform readers about the real threats to sharks and how we can begin to address them. Only by following the evidence and looking for sustainable solutions to combat overfishing based on data can we save these exciting and important creatures.
Many people believe that the biggest or only threat to sharks is the “shark fin”: the practice of catching sharks, collecting their fins and throwing carcasses into the sea. But this has not been the case for decades. I have seen that some online petitions calling for a ban on shark fins in Florida waters have collected tens of thousands of signatures. Obviously, neither the petitioners nor many of the signatories know that we already banned shark fins in the United States nearly 30 years ago. Although supporters of these petitions say they are “raising awareness”, it helps no one and nothing to share incorrect information about what problems and how to solve them. Such well-being solutions do nothing but distract energy, media coverage and funding from decisions that can really help.
The biggest threat faced by sharks – contrary to the viral campaigns I have seen from well-meaning but uninformed shark conservationists – is not climate change, which could negatively affect some populations, nor plastic pollution that could harm some individuals, but is not a threat of the species level. We need to work to address these two, as well as many other ocean conservation issues, but the claim that it is vital to shark conservation is, at best, misleading.
In fact, the main threat to sharks and their relatives is certainly unsustainable overfishing, which includes, but is not limited to, shark fins. One hundred percent of endangered shark species on the IUCN Red List include overfishing; It is no coincidence that the newspaper announcing the renewal of the Red List status is called “Overfishing draws more than a third of all sharks and cattle to the global extinction crisis». The problem is that people kill too many sharks, either accidentally through “by-catches”, when people who catch fish catch other species that swim near them fishing objects, either intentionally or with fins like no matter how small it was, or because of the growing demand for shark meat. By itself, banning or restricting fin trade contributes little to addressing this much broader problem, and since there is no standardization in reports of the number of sharks accidentally killed, we still do not know the depth of the problem.
It should be noted that this does not mean that the only solution is “prohibited fishing”. Sustainable shark fishing absolutely exist and are an important part of livelihoods and food security in developing countries in the global south. Sharks have relatively few offspring relatively rarely, which complicates fisheries management, but the principle is the same as for any sustainable fishery: do research to find out how many sharks are present, and allow fishermen to take some of them (but not so much to population is collapsing). In fact, 90 percent of the sharks surveyed are scientists and 78 percent of respondents are in favor of shark conservation prefer sustainable shark fishing to a total ban on shark fishing and trade in shark products!
If you’ve never heard of sustainable shark fishing before, but heard that the best way to save sharks is to ban fins trade in the United States, it’s probably because for some reason such bans get much more media attention than scientifically sound sustainable fisheries management. Many people are also influenced by provocative and misleading (to put it mildly) “documentaries” like 2021 Marine aspiration.
There is no doubt that sharks need our help and that the loss of sharks will be environmentally and economically devastating. But we need to focus our efforts on real threats, and we need to use evidence-based solutions to alleviate those threats.
If you want to learn more about shark threats and solutions backed by expert scientists and scientific data, I invite you to pick up a copy Why sharks are important: a deep dive with the most obscure predator in the world.
Everything you know about shark conservation is wrong
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