Current overfishing of sharks is putting the creatures at risk of extinction, a new study finds. According to scientists, almost 100 million sharks are killed every year.
"We are now the predators. Humans have mounted an unrelenting assault on sharks, and their numbers are crashing throughout the world's oceans," said Elizabeth Wilson, the manager of global shark conservation of conservation charity Pew Environment Group.
Scientists say that many species of sharks need better protection to keep them from being illegally fished for dishes such as shark fin soup, an extremely popular foodstuff in countries such as China and Japan, some of the worse offenders in illegal shark fishing.
The studies were released to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in a debate over whether to deem more shark species, including several types of hammerhead, oceanic whitetip and porbeagles.
“Imagine we still had 500 species of dinosaurs around—every form and color from tiny critters to huge, whalelike creatures,” said Boris Worm, a biology professor at Dalhousie University and lead author of the paper. “Once they were everywhere, but then we started to chop off their tails to make soup from it, and now they are going extinct—not because a meteorite hit the planet, but because we ate their tails.”
“It is not sustainable,” he continued.
Sharks are being fished at quantities 30-60% higher than current populations can sustain, claim the scientists.
"Unfortunately the demand in these countries [Japan and China] is driving the trade in the shark finning that we see at the moment. So unfortunately they continue to support this demand from their own consumers, but its right and good that the international community has come together to decide that these five shark species should be regulated,” said Tom Quinn of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Although sharks may strike fear in beachgoers and conjure up images of mindless killing machines a la Jaws, the 400 million year old creatures are crucial to the marine ecosystem and food chain.
“Biologically, sharks simply can't keep up with the current rate of exploitation and demand,” Wilson pointed out. “Protective measures must be scaled up significantly in order to avoid further depletion and the possible extinction of many shark species in our lifetime."
The conference did make progress on the issue, adding five species of shark and two species of manta ray to the list of animals where trade is regulated.