by Hilary Goodwin
Last week, the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) met in Halifax, Nova Scotia for their annual meeting. NAFO, an intergovernmental fisheries science and management body, is the only Regional Fishery Management Organization (RFMO) to have an elasmobranch quota, which was first set in 2004. There are 13 Contracting Parties to NAFO, including Canada, who collaboratively strive towards ‘optimum utilization, rational management and conservation of the fishery resources of the NAFO Convention Area’.
Since the mid-1990’s, approximately 70% of Canadian elasmobranch catches (sharks, skates and rays) have been taken outside of Canada’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which spans 200 nautical miles from the coast, but within the NAFO Convention Area.
Thorny skate (Amblyraja radiata), the primary species caught in waters governed by NAFO, has been assessed as vulnerable overall by the IUCN Red List. Throughout its range, the Thorny skate has been assessed as critically endangered in the US, vulnerable in Canada, and least concern in the Northeast Atlantic. Since Thorny skate distribution straddles international boundaries, effective management of the Thorny skate stock depends on international cooperation through organizations like NAFO.
The NAFO Standing Committee on Fisheries Science (STACFIS) conducts scientific assessments biannually which are used to inform decision makers when setting quotas. At the 2012 NAFO meeting, the Contracting Parties set a two year skate quota of 7,000 metric tons, to be allocated among Russia, Canada, and the EU. Since the skate quota was set in 2012, it did not come up for discussion at this year’s meeting.
Since 2008, the STACFIS has suggested the skate Total Allowable Catch (TAC) be reduced to 5,000 metric tons, however, NAFO’s quota has never been set in line with scientific advice (http://archive.nafo.int/open/sc/2012/scr12-028.pdf).
Like sharks, other elasmobranchs such as the Thorny skate are vulnerable to overfishing to the point where their populations cannot recover due to slow growth, late maturity, and low fecundity, making effective management essential.
NAFO has the opportunity to be a leader among RFMOs in elasmobranch management and should align next year’s skate quota with scientific advice.
**Regarding other elasmobranch news at NAFO, a joint proposal by the US-EU for shark fins to be landed naturally attached failed.
For more info about the 2013 NAFO meeting, check out the WWF-Canada press release here:
To find out more about NAFO visit: http://www.nafo.int/about/frames/about.html