In the past, sharks were not appreciated because their importance as ecosystem top predators was not understood. As a result of that and global over exploitation of marine fauna, most shark populations declined to low levels. What contributed to the decline of sharks specifically, were their reproduction levels, which are much lower than those of other fish, i.e. from 2 (two) to 300 (three hundred) juveniles per pregnancy and female shark. Several other fish species produce hundreds of thousands of eggs. Of course, all of these eggs do not get fertilised.
Lately, shark conservation has been slowly advancing, as the value of sharks, approximately 400 species in total, has been understood. Finally, real steps to save the remaining sharks are being taken. Especially the cruel fishing of sharks for fins only, up to 73 million sharks annually, had resulted in a lot of bad publicity. This negative publicity together with pressure from environmental groups made governments and inter-governmental bodies speed up shark conservation measures. Now there is new hope for the sharks worldwide.
As the global species conservation agreement CITES only prohibits the international trade (not fishing) of three shark species, i.e. the white, whale and basking shark, there has been much need for more efficient protection measures. For example Shark Conservation Trust has done a lot of lobbying lately to improve the management measures at the national and international levels. The Trust is a cooperation body of more than one hundred conservation organisations.
The recent advances include the following:
Palau, Honduras, Colombia, Mexico, the Maldives, the Marshall Islands, the Bahamas, and the Federated States of Micronesia signed during the UN General Assembly in September 2011 a declaration in which they promise to establish shark conservation areas in their national waters.
In China and Taiwan, where shark fin soup is a highly regarded speciality of the local kitchen, progress also took place. In September a campaign against shark finning started in China. It features Yao Ming, a local basked ball hero, and Richard Branson, a British millionaire. As to Taiwan, towards the end of 2011, the country passed a law which will end shark fishing for fins only at the beginning of January 2012.
In the U.S., the legislative loop holes in the management of shark fisheries were eliminated in 2011. This followed the example given by Australia, where the legislation had been tightened earlier. The Australian observation has been that when the law forces the fisherman to bring to port the entire shark with the fins attached, the interest in shark finning nearly disappears.
Positive news have been heard also from the European Union countries. On 21 November, the European Commission proposed to prohibit, with no exemptions, the practice of shark finning aboard fishing vessels. Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki said: “I very much look forward to the Council and the European Parliament accepting our proposal, so that it becomes law as soon as possible.” The proposal strengthens the existing EU legislation banning shark finning: member states will not be able to issue special fishing permits, which earlier have made the continuation of shark finning possible.