Conservation and Management

International and National Plans of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks

In response to the growing widespread concern over increased fishing effort, its negative impact on global shark populations and the lack of management at both national and international levels, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) developed an International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA-Sharks) in 1999.

The IPOA-Sharks is a voluntary international instrument. This instrument, within the framework of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, covers both target species and bycatch and applies to all states, in national waters and on the high seas. The IPOA-Sharks calls upon states to develop and implement their National Plan of Action for Sharks (NPOA-Sharks). NPOA-Sharks are meant to provide guidelines on sustainable catch limit, data collection, stakeholder consultation, waste minimization, protection, ecosystem preservation, and special attention to threatened and vulnerable populations.

The development of this comprehensive instrument was a success at the international level; however, as the IPOA-Sharks is voluntary, it does not create binding rights and obligations on states. Uptake at the national level and progress toward implementation of NPOA-Sharks has been slow. As stated in the FAO report of the expert consultation on the implementation of the IPOA-Sharks, many states are characterized by an almost complete lack of management of shark fishery resources. To date, 66 states out of 130 nations reporting landings of shark to the FAO have indicated some degree of progress towards developing an NPOA with only fourteen submissions even years after its inception. Obviously, there continues to be lack of willingness to invest in the development and implementation of measures to adopt an NPOA-sharks and actively protect sharks at the national level. In addition, implementation by individual states of NPOA-Sharks has shown to be inconsistent, as a wide variation in different approaches and levels of protection have been established.

In 2007, Canada became the ninth country in the world to develop an National Plan of Action for the conservation and management of Sharks. The Canadian NPOA-Sharks provides a useful overview of the commercial shark stocks in Canadian waters as well as the existing management and monitoring measures; however, this plan, similar to other NPOA-Sharks, has received criticism. The plan remains vague and unspecific, failing to set any priorities, timelines or deliverables, and thus failing to provide strong foundations for conservation and management in Canada.