February 24, 2022
A Respite for Mako
ICCAT INITIATES 2-YEAR RETENTION BAN
In November, after more than a decade of warning about the vulnerability and decline of North Atlantic shortfin mako shark, international managers banned the retention of all shortfin mako sharks for two years. International scientists have advised that a moratorium is the most immediate step we can take to reverse the decline and rebuild the population, but it will still take more than five decades to fully recover this deeply depleted population.
Increased fishing mortality, an international delay in heeding the warning of scientists, and the particular life history of mako shark contributed to a dramatic decline in biomass that resulted in this agreement by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) which includes 51 fishing nations and the European Union.
Commercial fishermen using long line gear to catch swordfish or tuna, hook makos as well. The shark meat is valuable, incentivizing fishermen to keep their catch, dead or alive. Sport fishermen pursue this acrobatic opponent not only because it goes airborne during a strike, but to test their mettle against one of the fastest ocean swimmers and a legendary fighter. Combined landings rose from less than 1,000 metric tons (mt) per year in the 1980s to over 5,000 mt per year in the mid 1990s before declining to an average of 2,400 mt per year in the last decade. The catch consists largely of juveniles.
About a decade ago, scientists saw the warning signs and recommended caution for mako and other shark species with the greatest biological vulnerability and retention bans for species with high longline survivorship. ICCAT prohibited retention of big-eye threshers, oceanic whitetip, most hammerhead and silky sharks, but similar protection for mako lagged.
In the meantime, makos’ conservative life history, including late maturity and low reproductive output, accelerated the overfishing problem. Shortfin mako sharks grow slowly, and females do not reach maturity until 19 – 22 years of age. Because of this, it is anticipated the spawning stock biomass will continue to decline for many years after fishing pressure has been reduced and until the recruits reach maturity.
Wild Oceans has joined other ocean conservation organizations urging ICCAT to remove all incentives to catch makos by prohibiting landings of all mako. The two-year pause gives managers a clean slate to decide whether and how to allow landing of mako that are dead on arrival and a moment to acknowledge that every death will delay the 50-year return of makos to historic levels. In 2023, ICCAT scientists will discuss the possible retention of a limited amount of dead shortfin mako sharks and identify options to reduce mortality further: closing fisheries in certain areas or periods, safe handling and release practices, and gear modifications.
Makos’ only predator is mankind, and our continued commitment to conservation and sacrifice is the only way to protect this apex species.