Tens of millions of sharks and closely related rays are killed each year in fisheries, either intentionally or as bycatch. Too often their populations are being fished faster than they can reproduce.
Despite the mounting evidence of shark overfishing and depletion, few countries restrict shark fishing. Even fewer have managed shark fisheries successfully.
Most sharks do not stay within the waters of any one country, migrating across national and international boundaries. Some species, such as makos and blue sharks, travel across entire ocean basins. Yet, there are virtually no international limits on the catch of sharks.
Bycatch is the unintentional or incidental capture of non-target species during fishing operations.
Bycatch is a significant global issue. The bycatch of sharks can be particularly problematic as sharks usually have slower growth rates than the target species. Shark populations may be seriously depleted through bycatch from a targeted fishery that may be sustainable (or at least a longer term operation).
Because shark bycatch is often thrown back into the sea dead, or landed but not reported, the depletion of shark populations may go unnoticed for long periods of time – as is the case with several species of large-bodied North Atlantic skates.
Different types of fisheries take different species as bycatch at differing levels, depending on the type of fishing gear and the time, area and depth at which it is used.