Vulnerable sharks, rays and rays in the Mediterranean are more likely to be caught in protected than unprotected areas, according to a study published Tuesday, which highlights the need for better protection of critically endangered species.
The three species of thickmouth fish are among the species most threatened by overfishing.
Though they’re often landed as bycatch — or caught in the nets of boats trying to land other species — demand for their fins and meat has led to an estimated 71 percent decline in ocean sharks and rays since the 1970s.
Despite being among the oldest marine species on earth, one-third of gossips are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because of their slow growth and late maturity.
While dozens of nations have banned large-scale fishing for endangered shark, ray and ray species, true global catch numbers are likely to be grossly underestimated given that small boats make up 90 percent of the world’s fishing fleet.
Researchers in Italy wanted to get a better picture of how the species are faring in the partially protected areas of the Mediterranean where some fishing is possible with restrictions.
They used photo samples and image analysis to compile a database covering more than 1,200 small fisheries in 11 locations in France, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Slovenia and Greece.
– protected areas –
The team then used statistical models to show that catches of threatened species were higher in partially protected areas than in areas without any protection.
“People assume that it’s big trawlers that are affecting biodiversity, which is true, and there’s a lot of evidence for that,” said co-author Antonio Di Franco of the Sicily Marine Center.
‘There is less research on the impact of small-scale fishing and our research shows that potential is there.’
The team found that catches they analyzed in partially protected areas brought 24 species of sharks, rays and rays ashore – more than a third of which are endangered.
This is probably partly due to the species’ preference for coastal waters, where most small-scale fisheries prefer to operate.
“We don’t know the activity of small-scale fisheries in general, we don’t know how many nets they actually fish or where they fish,” Di Franco said.
A total of 517 gossipnosefish were caught in the partially protected areas surveyed versus 358 in non-protected areas.
Measured by mass, the weight of shark, ray or ray species caught in partially protected areas was about twice that of non-protected areas.
More than 100 countries have committed to increasing the proportion of protected oceans worldwide to 30 percent by 2030.
Di Franco said there are a number of steps countries could take to help threatened species, including fitting smaller fishing boats with GPS trackers and ensuring protected areas are connected so species can more easily change habitats.
“Protected areas are a huge potential benefit for biodiversity, but the point is to look at management,” he told AFP.
“But countries often don’t have the capacity to manage stocks properly.”
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