Mediterranean and Black Sea sharks risk extinction

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Black tip sharks are among threatened Mediterranean species.

Shark populations in the Mediterranean and Black Sea have dropped dramatically over the last two centuries and now risk extinction, with serious implications for the region’s entire marine ecosystem and food chains, according to a new study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The study found that “Sharks in the Mediterranean Sea have declined by more than 97 percent in number and 'catch weight’ over the last 200 years. They risk extinction if current fishing pressure continues".

The study added that “This loss of top predators could hold serious implications for the entire marine ecosystem, greatly affecting food webs throughout this region".

The study, Elasmobranchs of the Mediterranean and Black Sea: Status, Ecology and Biology, was undertaken by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, one of several FAO regional bodies working in the fisheries sector.

It found that cartilaginous fish species, such as sharks and rays, “are by far the most endangered group of marine fish in the Mediterranean and Black sea where 85 species are known to occur. Of 71 species assessed in the Mediterranean Sea in 2007, (42 percent) were found to be threatened, including 13 percent critically endangered, 11 percent endangered and 13 percent vulnerable.

In general sharks and rays have not been deliberately targeted in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, but caught accidentally.

At the same time, however fishing activities targeting sharks are intensifying due to rapidly increasing demand for shark fins, meat and cartilage.

Among the most recent measures adopted by the Commission to protect sharks and rays is the prohibition of 'finning’ (removal of fins at sea and discarding of carcass) and the reduction of trawl fishing within 3 nautical miles off the coast to enhance protection of coastal sharks.

Donn Bobb, United Nations.

Duration: 1’45″

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