Sharks in Mediterranean in Danger of Extinction Because of Trade in Fins, Data Shows

Zafrir Rinat
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A Mediterranean shark: On the endangered list.Credit: AP
Zafrir Rinat

A large percentage of the shark species in Europe and the Mediterranean are in danger of extinction, and not enough is being done to save them, according to figures presented this week during an international convention on trade in wild animals and plants, held in Tel Aviv.

A high-level meeting was hosted by the Nature and Parks Authority, in the context of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. During the meetings of the professional committee on animals, necessary steps for continued oversight of the trade are formulated.

One of the main subjects this week was the situation of sharks and bat rays (species such as the manta ray, which are similar to sharks) in the Mediterranean and other areas bordering on Europe. One of the main reasons for the endangered status of sharks is the trade in their fins, which are a popular delicacy in restaurants worldwide. Oversight of the trade in fins could reduce the damage.

Of all the species of fish in the Mediterranean and Europe, the situation of the sharks and the bat rays is the worst. According to the latest estimate of the Nature Preservation Organization, about 40 percent of the 132 species of sharks and bat rays are in danger of extinction in the region, several of them in severe danger. The organization mentioned Croatia and Israel as the only two Mediterranean countries making efforts to protect sharks. Increasing enforcement measures against large-scale shark fishing opposite the Gaza and Hadera coasts have been implemented by the Nature and Parks Authority.

Sharks are sometimes caught in nets unintentionally, but the fishermen don’t release them. Especially serious is the case of the blue shark, whose fins are much in demand in world markets. Spain is the leading exporter of the fins. There is almost no supervision of shark fishing in the Mediterranean.

Bat rays are also in demand, because of their meat. Two years ago, a large school of bat rays was caught by fishermen in the Gaza Strip. A representative of a nature conservation organization came and met with them and convinced them to reduce the number of bat rays they catch.

The convention against trading in wild fauna decided two years ago to include several types of sharks. That means that they can be traded, but only under supervision and on condition that the species is not in danger of extinction. Last year they began to enforce this decision worldwide, including inspection of fins at the Hong Kong airport, which is the central hub for this trade, and in the United Arab Emirates. Several airlines decided to discontinue transport of shark fins.

During this week’s meeting several countries, including Israel, suggested enforcing inspection for other species, including the type of bat ray caught in Gaza. The need to supervise trade in blue shark fins was also emphasized. An international organization overseeing fishing in the Mediterranean recently recommended that fishermen be obligated to release from their nets several types of sharks in danger of extinction.