Protecting Migratory Sharks

Sharks, many of which migrate across international boundaries, are among the world’s oldest species of animals. Their biological and ecological characteristics make them particularly vulnerable to overexploitation.

A number of species of migratory sharks are endangered or vulnerable. That is why the United States has joined the Philippines and forty other nations in negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding, or M.O.U., to promote the conservation and sustainable management of migratory sharks.

The United States signed the M.O.U., which is worldwide in scope and takes effect immediately for signatories, along with nine other governments on February 12th in Manila.

Negotiated under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals, the Memorandum of Understanding aims to foster scientific research on, and to enhance the conservation and management of seven species of migratory sharks: the Basking, Great White, Longfin and Shortfin, Mako, Porbeagle, Northern Hemisphere Spiny Dogfish, and Whale sharks. Signatories to the M.O.U. may subsequently add other shark species in need of conservation in the future.

Under the Chairmanship of the Philippines and with the support of the Secretariat of the Convention on Migratory Species, the negotiations successfully navigated several technically complex and challenging issues in order to reach agreement.

These include the number of species to be covered, the legal nature of the M.O.U., and the relationship between the M.O.U. and overarching Conservation on Migratory Sharks.

The U.S. delegation to the negotiations was led by the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, and was composed of representatives of the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service.

Migratory sharks are threatened primarily through unregulated fishing, especially for their fins, and as bycatch. Given their migratory patterns, sharks require international cooperation in order for any conservation and management measures to be effective.

In addition to the Convention on Migratory Sharks M.O.U., the United States is also proposing listing several shark species under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species to promote legal and sustainable trade, due to the concerns that the international trade in shark fins is also having a negative impact on shark populations.

Contrary to popular belief, few species of sharks are potentially dangerous to human beings. Sharks play an important role in ocean ecosystems. People throughout the world have a stake in protecting migratory sharks.