Activists from Greenpeace International confronted a fishing vessel yesterday approximately 200 miles away from The Azores as it was hauling in sharks on a longline, capturing shocking footage of the vessel’s practices. The peaceful protest saw activists unfurl a banner with the message “Sharks Under Attack” and came as Greenpeace International releases a new report that reveals lack of protection in international waters is resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of endangered sharks each year.
In the North Atlantic, the Greenpeace ship Esperanza documented fishing vessels which, while known to be primarily catching swordfish, in fact collectively catch four times more sharks than swordfish (by weight). During the protest, the crew saw only one swordfish caught by the Spanish vessel Ameal and at least 8 sharks pulled from a line nearly 40 miles long. The shark species are currently being identified.
“It is absolutely immoral to kill sharks and other wildlife with these terrible fishing practices. We are exposing the culprits at sea now, but we urgently need a strong treaty and tighter fishing limits to protect our global oceans,” said Will McCallum of Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign, on board the Esperanza.
The report also highlights the devastating impact that overfishing is having on shortfin mako shark populations, the world’s fastest shark, which is closely related to the great white. Greenpeace’s analysis shows that Spanish and Portuguese ships in the area are catching as many as 25,000 mako sharks annually.
The fishing vessels follow migratory routes of swordfish, using destructive methods like long lines with thousands of hooks, which also kill sharks and other animals. Sharks are mainly targeted for their fins, which some cultures prize as a delicacy.
An estimated 100 million sharks are killed every year. Greenpeace analysis shows that, despite official estimates that immediately stopping all catch of shortfin mako would result in only a 50 percent chance of their population recovering by 2040, the most recent catch data was 3,112 metric tons in 2017, equating to as many as 25,000 endangered sharks.
The report is launched as the Esperanza sails from the Arctic to the Antarctic undertaking ground-breaking research and investigations to campaign for a strong Global Ocean Treaty at the United Nations. A strong treaty could pave the way for the creation of ocean sanctuaries in 30 percent of the high seas by 2030, placing vast areas of the sea off-limits to harmful human activities and allowing marine life to recover.
Today there is no legal mechanism to create ocean sanctuaries in international waters and only around 1 percent of the oceans are fully protected. Alongside the widespread failure of industry and regional bodies to adhere to scientific advice, this enables the fishing industry to devastate marine ecosystems by using harmful practices to overfish, often in sensitive areas, and decimate shark populations worldwide. Many species of sharks are in danger of extinction and some populations have decreased by as much as 99 percent due to human activity.
Lifelong UK fisherman Jerry Percy, who has represented small–scale, sustainable fishermen across Europe, was on board the Esperanza and said:
“Smaller scale fishermen rely on healthy populations of sharks and other fish species at the top of the food chain to maintain the balance of marine life in the oceans. This allows us to make a sustainable living and at the same time support vulnerable coastal communities. But unregulated and lawless fishing is putting all this at risk, for short term profit for the few but long term losses for the many.”
Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaigner Arlo Hemphill added:
“Unfortunately, when it comes to the 64 percent of the ocean that lies in international waters, there is no organization or nation authorized with protecting its wildlife. There are bodies designed to protect fisheries, shipping, undersea cables, and even deep sea mining, but the species at risk and the broader ecosystem are largely on their own. This is why governments are negotiating a new ocean treaty, and why Greenpeace is calling for that treaty to be strong and endowed with the decision-making authority to set up ocean sanctuaries in places important to animals like these sharks.”
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