Hammerhead shark. North Atlantic populations of hammerheads have declined by more than 99 percent. AFP

By Marlowe Hood
21 November 2010

(AFP) PARIS — At least 1.3 million sharks, many listed as endangered, were harvested from the Atlantic in 2008 by industrial-scale fisheries unhampered by catch or size limits, according to a tally released Monday.

The actual figure may be several fold higher due to under-reporting, said the study, released by advocacy group Oceana on the sidelines of a meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).

Convening in Paris through November 27, the 48-member ICCAT is charged with ensuring that commercial fisheries are sustainable. It has the authority to set catch quotas and restrictions.

While the global spotlight has been trained on the plight of Atlantic bluefin tuna, many species of high-value sharks are in even more dire straits, say marine biologists. …

Of the 21 species found in the Atlantic, three-quarters are classified as threatened with extinction.

North Atlantic populations of the oceanic white tip, for example, have declined by 70 percent, and hammerheads by more than 99 percent, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Other species -- including the porbeagle, common thresher and shortfin mako -- have also been overexploited, and may be teetering on the brink of viability.

Many are fished for their fins -- prized as a delicacy in Chinese cuisine -- and then tossed, dead or dying, back into the sea once the choice morsels have been sliced off.

The practice is prohibited, but loopholes in the regulation have allowed the ban to be widely ignored. …

Tens of millions of the open-water hunters are extracted from global seas every year.

Regional studies have shown that when shark populations crash the impact cascades down through the food chain, often in unpredictable and deleterious ways.

More than a million Atlantic sharks killed yearly

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