CoCoNet Press Release OCTOBER 2014
SHARKS AND MARINE PROTECTED AREAS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA
The warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea are home to at least 85 elasmobranch species (sharks and rays). Unfortunately, sharks are largely misunderstood, although most of them are completely harmless and never attach humans. In spite of their integral part in delicate marine ecosystems, they are being fished to extinction.
In the Mediterranean region, elasmobranchs are characterized by their high diversity (49 sharks and 36 rays). The region is known to be an important habitat for cartilaginous fish and is thought to encompass unique breeding grounds for species such as the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) and thornback ray (Raja clavata). Within the framework of the Barcelona Convention, some of them are already protected, mainly the great white shark, basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) and Mediterranean manta ray (Mobula mobular).
According to General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), sharks and rays constitute an important bycatch of commercial fisheries targeting bony fishes. Usually almost all specimens of bycatch are marketed. Elasmobranchs represent about 1–2 % of the total landings. These landings increased from 10,000 to 25,000 tonnes between 1970 and 1985, but declined to 7,000 tonnes nowadays. The last 200 years have seen a dramatic decline of large predatory sharks in the Mediterranean Sea. This loss of top predators could hold serious implications for the entire marine ecosystem, greatly affecting food webs throughout this region.
It is a fact that the elasmobranchs of the Mediterranean are declining in abundance, diversity and range due to the intense fishing activity primarily in response to the rapidly increasing demand for shark fins, meat and cartilage. However, this direct fishing as well as byctach mortality are not the only impacts on elasmobranch populations. Their biological characteristics (low fecundity, late maturity and slow growth rates) also make these fishes vulnerable to fishing pressure.
Some Mediterranean countries have introduced specific protection measures for these species to strengthen their protected species status. Habitat protection is extremely important for sharks and rays. We know that certain areas of the Mediterranean Sea are their breeding and spawning grounds.
In the Mediterranean Sea, there are 170 designated MPAs, 507 Natura 2000 sites, 4 Fisheries Restricted Areas. In total, 5.26 % of the Mediterranean Sea is under protection. Insufficient management of the MPAs, however, is implied by the fact that only 42 % of MPAs have a management structure and only 44 % have a management plan. Weak enforcement and fund are impediment for the MPAs.
The CoCoNet project encourages the Mediterranean states to establish more effectively managed MPAs, not only for some popular species, such as the Mediterranean monk seal or sea turtles, but also sharks and rays.
Small-spotted catshark TÜDAV
Sandbar shark TÜDAV