New Report: Sharks Neglected in the Atlantic

According to a new report released this week by Oceana, less than 1% of the highly migratory sharks reported caught in the Atlantic Ocean are protected from overfishing by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the group that's charged with protecting them.

And what's more, the report indicates that three-quarters of the highly migratory shark species being caught in ICCAT fisheries are classified as threatened in parts of the Atlantic by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

That's a heck of a lot of neglected sharks.

Some sharks, like tunas, travel long distances across the oceans, so their populations can't be effectively managed by any one country. That's where ICCAT comes in. Although ICCAT is the appropriate body to manage sharks in the Atlantic, Oceana's new report shows that current efforts are grossly insufficient.

Most shark species in the Atlantic are vulnerable to overfishing because of their exceptionally low reproductive rates. Currently, ICCAT only has protections in place for a few species including hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks, although many other sharks are threatened, including porbeagle, silky, and shortfin mako sharks.

And these sharks are far from man-eating monsters, mind you -- they are top predators that keep the ecosystem in balance. When these sharks are overfished, it affects the entire the ocean food chain -- and most likely not in a good way.

A shocking 50% of ICCAT fishing countries did not report any shark catches at all in 2009. Such massive underreporting of shark fishing makes it extraordinarily difficult to know what impact fisheries are having on sharks.

Oceana scientists are present at the ICCAT meeting this week, and they are calling on the 48 countries that fish in the Atlantic to adopt greater measures to protect these vulnerable sharks.

The fishing countries of the Atlantic can no longer ignore the shark populations they are responsible for protecting. We should be scared for sharks - not of them - and ICCAT must do more to protect our oceans' top predators.

You can help by joining Oceana's campaign to protect sharks.