VOICES Voices Icon Ideas and Insight From Explorers


Quarter of Northeast Atlantic Sharks and Rays Threatened With Extinction


Porbeagle shark Lamna nasus (Global Red List Assessment: Vulnerable;

Sub-population Red List assessment for the Northeast Atlantic: Critically Endangered)

Photo © Steven Campana

Joining the long list of species heading toward extinction are 26 percent of northeast Atlantic sharks, rays and chimaeras, according to an assessment by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Another 20 percent are in the Near Threatened category.

“The total number of threatened species may well be higher as there was insufficient information to assess more than a quarter (27 percent) of the species,” according to a report released today by the IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG).

shortfin-mako_Jeremy-Stafford-Deitsch.jpgThe report reveals that shark, ray and chimaera (cartilaginous fish related to sharks and rays) species are much more threatened in the northeast Atlantic than they are globally.

“Specifically, seven percent of species in the northeast Atlantic are classified as Critically Endangered, seven percent as Endangered, and 12 percent as Vulnerable, primarily due to overfishing.

Shortfin mako Isurus oxyrinchus (Global Red List Assessment: Vulnerable; Atlantic regional Red List assessment: Vulnerable)

Photo © Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch

This means 26 percent are threatened in the northeast Atlantic, compared with 18 percent globally,” the group said.

“From angel sharks to devil rays, northeast Atlantic populations of these vulnerable species are in serious trouble, more so than in many other parts of the world,” says Claudine Gibson, former Programme Officer for the IUCN SSG and lead author of the report. “Most sharks and rays are exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing because of their tendency to grow slowly, mature late, and produce few young. Those at greatest risk of extinction in the northeast Atlantic include heavily fished, large sharks and rays, like porbeagle and common skate, as well as commercially valuable deepwater sharks and spiny dogfish.”

Sharks play key roles as top predators in marine food webs. “By feeding on the weak and wounded of prey species, sharks help maintain ocean ecosystem function,” the IUCN said. “Overexploitation, from targeted fisheries as well as incidental take (or bycatch) is the primary cause of declines in Northeast Atlantic sharks, rays and chimaeras.”


Common skate Dipturus batis (Global Red List Assessment: Critically Endangered) before it is tagged and released alive

Photo © Terry Jackson

The European Union (EU) has provided species-specific fishing limits for only four of the region’s 116 sharks, rays and chimaeras, the IUCN group pointed out. Basking and great white sharks are legally protected in the EU. Catch limits for spiny dogfish and porbeagle sharks exist, but are regularly set in excess of scientific advice.

“There are broad EU limits on multiple species of skates and rays as well as deepwater sharks, but these are also not yet in line with scientists’ recommendations. The UK and Sweden are the only northeast Atlantic countries to provide full national protection for certain shark and ray species. Beyond some agreements between the EU and Norway, there are no international catch limits for northeast Atlantic sharks, rays and chimaeras.”

silky_Jeremy-Stafford-Deitsch.jpgThe coming weeks bring multiple opportunities to improve the status of northeast Atlantic sharks and rays, the group said, “through meetings of international fisheries and wildlife bodies, the annual process for setting EU quotas, and a long-awaited European Community Plan of Action for sharks and related species.”

Silky shark Carcharhinus falciformis (Global Red List Assessment: Near Threatened)

Photo © Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch

The report includes specific recommendations for conservation action based on scientific advice.

“Never before have European countries had more reason or opportunity to safeguard the beleaguered shark and ray species of the northeast Atlantic,” says Sonja Fordham, deputy chair of the IUCN SSG and policy director for the Shark Alliance. “Country officials should heed the dire warnings of this report and act to protect threatened sharks and rays at national, regional and international levels. Such action is immediately possible and absolutely necessary to change the current course toward extinction of these remarkable ocean animals.”

The report is the result of a regional workshop to evaluate the status of the northeast Atlantic’s shark, ray and chimaera species using the IUCN Red List categories and criteria. The data for the report have been submitted for inclusion in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.


Angel shark Squatina squatina (Global Red List Assessment: Critically Endangered)

Photo © Simon Rogerson

Last month, at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, IUCN adopted Resolutions on shark finning, conservation of oceanic and migratory sharks, and the EU Plan of Action for Sharks.

IUCN represents more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists and experts in some 160 countries. Headquarters are located in Gland, near Geneva, in Switzerland.

Related NatGeo news Watch Entries:

Mass Extinctions Loom in Ocean Habitats, Scientist Warns

World Governments Subsidize the Wrong Fisheries, Survey Suggests


  1. Poornima
    July 24, 2011, 2:42 am

    this is sooooo loop sad