why sharks are overfished

Why Sharks are Overfished

Sharks are overfished. Fact. While it is pretty clear overfishing is the largest threat facing sharks, it’s a big topic, with many different industries and drivers playing a role in threatening sharks with extinction. We’re talking about some very lucrative business.

Sharks are the scariest thing in the ocean right!? Wrong. Us humans are way scarier! We are in no way dismissing their hunting ability as apex predators or the large numbers of teeth they have. However, we are a much bigger threat to them than they are to us. Shockingly, sharks are already functionally extinct from 1 in 5 coral reefs worldwide!

We’ve learned so much about sharks recently and have really enjoyed talking to some inspiring, passionate shark experts and advocates over the past 2 months. We hope you have too. After all that sharky chat we’ve pulled together a short summary of why sharks are overfished and what you can do to help …

What is overfishing?

Basically the taking of fish at too high a rate, so that the species does not have the chance to replace themselves.

overfishing - the biggest threat to sharks
Cambridge dictionary definition

Sharks are particularly vulnerable to overfishing. Many shark species are slow to mature and give birth infrequently and in small numbers, meaning they can’t recover quickly from any fishing pressure. As we said overfishing is the biggest threat to sharks, but what drives and causes it?

Reasons why sharks are overfished:

Fin trade

Reason for overfishing - shark finning

Largely driven by demand for shark fin soup, it is a brutal practice. Some nations have made the move to ban shark finning, but there are still many loopholes that allow, if not support, the continuation of this trade. For example, the UK still allows 20kg of shark fins (that’s around 7 sharks) to legally enter the country. This is something Shark Guardian are fighting against currently and after hitting their petition signature goal they are making progress with ongoing discussion with the government as we write this.


Reason for overfishing - bycatch

Bycatch is when a species wasn’t specifically targeted, but caught by accident or alongside the goal fish by mistake. It is usually linked to highly desirable products like tuna or shrimp. Bycatch can be effectively reduced by altering fishing practices and adopting more sustainable methods, so education and enforcement is really key here.


Reason for overfishing - shark squalene

Squalene is a natural oil, traditionally found in shark livers. The number and wide variety of products that can contain shark is always a surprise, from face moisturisers and suncreams, to supplements and vaccines to name but a few.

This topic has gained significant attention over recent months due to the potential use of shark squalene in covid-19 vaccines. If shark derived squalene is used in a final vaccine, then around 500,000 more sharks could be targeted to supply the shark liver oil needed. This is something Shark Allies are petitioning against currently with the aim of championing the use of existing non-shark alternatives instead. It will benefit both us and sharks, so please sign if you haven’t yet.

Read: 5 Things to Know About Shark Squalene


Reasons for overfishing - media

We all recognise the theme tune and even if we love sharks it still has a sinister effect! The sensational portrayal of sharks in the media continues to this day, with movies like ‘The Meg’ and ‘The Shallows’ and headlines about ‘shark infested waters’ (when it’s actually their home!) keeping the vast majority of us scared of sharks. We are more likely to protect something we care about and unfortunately we don’t really like or care about sharks. As we’re scared of them, we don’t mind as much if they’re overfished or pushed to the brink of extinction. They don’t usually invoke the most positive emotional response, which is often what’s needed to protect a species under threat.

What YOU can do to help:

1. Fight for more protected areas and support the charities working in the shark conservation space

Support all the great charities and NGOs working in this space. The same study that declared sharks functionally extinct in 20% of corals reefs also pointed out that countries enforcing marine conservation areas and more sustainable fishing practices had healthier shark populations. Conservation works and we can turn this around!

2. Eat less seafood and choose sustainably caught fish

Fish and sea food can still be part of your diet if you choose/need, but it is important to be aware of how and where any seafood is caught. Go for sustainable options and also shop local whenever you can.

3. Check all your products for Squalene (& Squalane)

Familiarise yourselves with what shark can be called in ingredients lists and avoid! If there is less demand, then there will be less overfishing.

4. Be critical of sensational media stories involving shark attacks!

Chat to everyone about the good things sharks do for our oceans and ultimately us. Changing misconceptions around sharks will go a long way to making more people care about the continuation of this species.

Whether you love them or not, we hope you’ll agree sharks are overfished and in need of help. No matter where you live and even if you’ll never see a real shark, you can do your bit to help protect them.

Remember ‘no blue, no green’ and we need those sharks for a healthy blue!

Here is a short list of some great organisations working in this space to protect sharks …

Ones to watch and support:

Shark Allies

Shark Guardian

Project Hiu – set up by @sharkgirlmadison, go follow her for more shark content too.

Thresher Shark Indonesia

Miss Elasmo – not a shark organisation per se, but a passionate group of shark scientists fighting for sharks and inclusivity & diversity in shark research.

Shark Spotters

Nakawe Project

Bimini Shark Lab

The Fins United Initiative – founded by our awesome ambassador @melissacristinamarquez

Sharks 4 kids

This list is by no means exhaustive, so feel free to add more sharky organisations doing great work in the comments!

Finally, remember that $10 of every ltd edition shark suit sold will be donated to Shark Guardian and Shark Allies charities ($5 each). It’s only available until 13th November, so get your orders in this week.



Science Magazine

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