Overfishing: How Sharks and Rays are on the Brink

When we catch fish, it inevitably leaves less fish behind. Usually, fish are able to recover their populations due to their ability to reproduce relatively quickly. However, different types of fish reproduce at different rates. Some fish, like sharks and rays, reproduce more slowly than others, which makes them extremely vulnerable to fishing pressure and overfishing.

Sharks and rays have been subject to increasingly intensive fishing practices since the 1980s. Their resources have been “mined down” due to higher demand for their products. Today, alarm bells could not be ringing louder for sharks and rays as they are being pushed closer and closer towards a global extinction crisis.

overfishing of sharks

What is overfishing?

Put simply, overfishing is catching too many fish at once. Fish are a ‘renewable’ resource, in that they reproduce and constantly replenish their stocks. So in theory, when some members of the population are fished, they are replaced by new recruits. However, if we are fishing populations at a rate where they are not replenished quick enough, the balance between gains and loss will be skewed, and this results in overfishing. When a stock is overfished, it’s unsustainable. It can result in ecosystem collapse, with negative consequences for all that rely on healthy oceans to survive.

Overfishing is Decimating Shark and Ray Populations

More than 1/3 of all sharks and rays are now at risk of extinction because of overfishing. Experts have found that since 2014, the number of endangered and critically endangered sharks and rays has more than tripled, and three species have recently been classified as “possibly extinct,” not having been seen for more than 80 years. Contemporary harvesting of sharks and rays is driven largely by demand for fins and for meat for consumption. The rise of high technology fishing methods has allowed for the use of larger nets, more hooks on longlines and boats capable of operating further from shore, leading to the dramatically accelerated catch rates of sharks and rays. These magnificent animals are disappearing on our watch. There is no denying that this is a pivotal time, if we act now, we still have a chance of saving these ancient predators that play such an important role in our oceans health.

former shark fishermen who are now protectors, overfishing of sharks

How can we help sharks and rays?

If we really are to save sharks from becoming extinct, governments, environmental groups, and fishers all need to work together to stop overfishing and halt further declines. This is precisely what Saving Our Sharks A.C. is doing in Mexico with the support of the Saving Our Sharks Foundation. Together with governmental institutions, INAPESCA and CONANP, we are working with local fishing communities off the coast of Cancun who have made the pledge to stop shark fishing, and instead develop non-extractive shark tourism activities. Through the Isla Mujeres Shark Initiative, the fishermen are creating a sustainable business through activities such as shark diving, shark snorkeling, citizen science activities, mangrove tours, and many more. This initiative not only supports the conservation of the Mexican Caribbean shark populations, but will also successfully provide an alternative and sustainable income for the local economy.

In recent decades, shark and ray populations have been devastated by relentless fishing pressure, and this tragedy has played out repeatedly in oceans all around the world. The good news is that if we take action now, we can stop this. You can help protect these essential predators by supporting projects like the Isla Mujeres Shark Initiative that protect these vulnerable species. Learn more about our work and support our local Shark Heroes making positive changes for the future of sharks.

Become a #SharkHero today and support the Isla Mujeres Shark Initiative!

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