Experts worried about the decline in shark population in the Caribbean region

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados–The Western Central Atlantic Fishery Commission (WECAFC) Working Group has warned that a significant number of shark species is disproportionately threatened.

“This threat is due to overfishing as sharks are fished sometimes as target species, others as a bycatch that is either commercialized or used locally as food, and sometimes as unwanted and discarded bycatch.

“This raises concern for oceans’ biodiversity loss, the health of aquatic ecosystems and the sustainability of fisheries for livelihoods, food and nutrition security, tourism and the overall ocean economy,” according to a statement issued here following a virtual meeting of the WECAFC Working Group.

The statement said that the meeting held earlier this month was attended by more than 40 delegates from member countries, including Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Colombia, Grenada, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Trinidad, and Tobago, the United States of America as well as the European Union.

It said that discussions were on developing a Regional Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks in the WECAFC Area.

According to the statement, more than one-third of sharks are threatened with extinction globally. In the WECAFC waters, which hosts 14 percent of the global number of shark species, relatively more significant numbers are disproportionately threatened.

“This is unacceptable as it is inconsistent with the objective of WECAFC, which is to promote the effective conservation, management, and development of the living marine resources in its area of competence,” said WECAFC secretary Yvette Diet Ouadi.

“This is the rationale behind the firm dedication of the Commission to actions aiming at reversing this trend, with the establishment of the Joint working group supported by WECAFC, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Central America Fisheries and Aquaculture Organization (OSPESCA), the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) and the Caribbean Fishery Management Council (CFMC)  working group under the umbrella of which is being reviewed the Regional Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (RPOA) background document, as well as strengthening the collaborative ties with key partners in the region.”

The statement noted that the Trinidad and Tobago delegation echoed similar sentiments.  Trinidad and Tobago are one of the 10 top shark fishing countries in the region.

Their statement said that there had been a significant advancement in the development of the RPOA-Sharks informed by a comprehensive review and consolidation of available information on the individual species, stock status, existing management and conservation measures, existing National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (NPOA-sharks) RPOAs and The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)categorizations for sharks in the WECAFC Region, and ecological, fisheries, trade, and other relevant data and information.

The discussions were enriched with inputs from the Secretariat of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) about existing conservation and management measures of relevant species and the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

“ICCAT was pleased to actively participate in this workshop through the contribution of the Secretariat and some of our shark experts,” said ICCAT executive secretary Camille Jean-Pierre Manel.

“Although there are ongoing discussions on a formal cooperation framework between our two organizations, our participation expresses ICCAT’s strong willingness to further cooperate with the WECAFC.

“We also strongly call the states of the region to join the ICCAT Convention, and further improve the data sharing and engagement on the management process, to enhance the knowledge on the tunas and tuna-like species/stocks and contribute to their sustainable exploitation in the Atlantic Ocean.”

The meeting agreed on the establishment of a task force that would work to deliver the final RPOA. “Its implementation, particularly in the Caribbean Small Island Developing States (SIDS), where the shark is an integral component of the food system and livelihoods of local fisherfolk, should contribute to bolstering food security in this region which continues to suffer economic downturns from the COVID-19 pandemic, improve economic, social and environmental benefits from well-managed shark fisheries,” the statement added.

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