The shark populations on the east coast of the U.S. have dwindled dramatically in the past 15 years. The number of hammerhead sharks has sunk by 89%, that of thresher sharks by 80%, and white sharks by about 79%. The populations of oceanic whitetip sharks, tiger sharks, blue sharks and makos sunk by 70%, 65%, 60%, i.e. 40% respectively (Source: Baum et al. 2002).
Canadian researchers report a 99% decline in oceanic whitetip shark populations and in some regions they are almost extinct (Source: Baum and Myers 2003).
Not only are sharks actively fished for their meat, fins or cartilage, but millions of them die needlessly as undesirable bycatch in the nets and longlines of swimming fish factories.
Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) was extended in 2002 to include whale sharks and basking sharks and in 2004 white sharks. All of these species are so endangered that across-the-border trade with products from these sharks had to be prohibited.
The "International Action Plan for Sharks" initiated by CITES and the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization) confirms that:
- more than 100 out of 400 shark species are being commercially exploited
- many of these shark species are so overexploited that even their long-term survival can no longer be guaranteed
- a serious monitoring and control program is lacking for international shark trade.
According to FAO statistics (Food and Agricultural Organization) and TRAFFIC (the WWF's monitoring organ for trade with wild animals) more than 800,000 tons - or more than 100 million sharks - are caught annually.
TRAFFIC states that Europe still lacks any kind of national or regional shark fishing regulations, despite the knowledge that shark populations are especially susceptible to overfishing because of their late sexual maturity and limited offspring.
In 1991, 8.3 million sharks (232,425 tons) landed in the longlines of the fishing industry. About half of these were presumably blue sharks.
Out of these 8.3. million sharks more than 203,000 tons (or 87%) were simply thrown away!
Between 1984 and 1998 the EU imported 37,000 tons of shark meat annually, while exporting 13,325 tons of sharks.
Between 1988 and 1994 the EU imported 143,770 tons of spiny dogfish. Dogfish, which turns into smoked fish strips or "Fish & Chips" are strongly endangered and almost completely decimated in European waters (also see the Shark Info article "Requiem for smoked dogfish").
The populations of sandbar sharks have been decimated from 85 to 90% in the past 10 years through overfishing.
Along the Atlantic coast of the U.S. and the Gulf of Mexico anglers fish about 2.5 million sharks (i.e. 35,000 tons) each year, out of which between 20 and 40% (7,000 – 14,000 tons or 500,000 – 1,000,000 sharks) are killed.
Baum, J. K. and R. A. Myers. 2003. Shifting baselines and the decline of pelagic sharks in the Gulf of Mexico Ecology Letters. Volume 7 Issue 2 Page 135.
Baum, J. K., R. A. Myers, D. G. Kehler, B. Worm, S. J. Harley, and P. A. Doherty. 2003. Collapse and Conservation of Shark Populations in the Northwest Atlantic. 10.1126/Science.1079777.