National plan of action for the conservation and management of sharks

National plan of action for the conservation and management of sharks

National plan of action for the conservation and management of sharks (PDF, 546 KB)

Published by:

Communications Branch
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0E6


©Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada 2007

Cat. No. Fs23-505/2007
ISBN 978-0-662-49884-1

Printed on recycled paper

1. Introduction

1.1 Purpose

The purpose of this document is to present Canada’s national plan for the conservation and management of sharks and their long-term sustainable use. Globally, the impact of Canada’s fishing activities on shark populations tends to be low. Nevertheless, measures have been and continue to be implemented to improve the management of these species.

Canada’s National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (NPOA-Sharks) was developed in accordance with the principles and provisions of the International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA-Sharks), as developed by United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

This document provides an overview of shark stocks in Canadian fisheries waters, identifies priorities for the NPOA, highlights Canada’s current legislative framework and international commitments, and outlines current measures to monitor, assess and manage these populations and their related fisheries. Recommendations for possible enhancements to existing conservation and management practices are also presented.

1.2 Overview of Sharks

Within the IPOA-Sharks, the term “sharks” is applied broadly to include all species of sharks, as well as related species of skates and chimaeras (class Chondrichthyes). The IPOA principles and provisions apply equally to all of these species. Consequently, for the purposes of this NPOA, the term “shark” is used to include all of these species, unless otherwise noted.

Shark species can be found in the fisheries waters off Canada’s Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic coasts. This NPOA-Sharks focuses on the most commonly found species, which include 27 species of sharks, 29 skates, and four chimaeras. (As outlined in Annex 1, there are additional species that have been recorded in Canadian fisheries waters but are considered to be exceptionally rare.) Only a few species are the subject of directed commercial fisheries, while the majority of species might be caught as bycatch in other fisheries, or are known to be in Canadian fisheries waters but are not caught.

Prior to 1995, there were no specific restrictions on the fishing of sharks. Historically, these species were considered commercially undesirable and were readily discarded. With the decline of the groundfish fisheries, commercial interest in sharks began to grow resulting in increased landings in the 1990s. This was soon followed by the adoption of the first shark management plans and total allowable catches (TACs) for these species within Canada.

Sharks are typically slow growing and although their survival rate from birth is high, they produce few young per year. Given their life history characteristics, sharks are highly susceptible to overexploitation and are slow to recover from stock depletion. The precautionary approach to management and conservation is therefore warranted for sharks, especially as information about some of these species remains limited.

1.3 Origin and Purpose of IPOA-Sharks

The IPOA-Sharks was developed by the FAO in accordance with its Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. The objective of the IPOA-Sharks is to improve the conservation and management of sharks and their long-term sustainable use within the directed and non-directed fisheries.

The IPOA emerged out of growing international concerns about the sustainability of shark populations given increased commercial exploitation, population vulnerability to overfishing, slow population recovery rates, and limited knowledge about these species and related fishery practices.

The IPOA-Sharks applies to States in whose waters sharks are caught by vessels (their own or foreign) or whose vessels catch sharks on the high seas. Under this voluntary framework, participating States are encouraged to assess their current shark populations, identify threats to these populations, and provide special attention to vulnerable or threatened species. They are also encouraged to improve catch reporting, increase catch utilization, and enhance frameworks for broad stakeholder consultation.

1.4 Canadian Legislative and Regulatory Framework

There are a number of legislative measures, enacted by the Government of Canada, that are relevant to managing and maintaining the long-term sustainability of shark populations and fisheries. Canada’s approach to managing its fisheries and oceans resources is based on a commitment to ecological sustainability, integrated fisheries management, and the precautionary approach. These legislative instruments include:

These legislative instruments, along with the policies and programs that support them, are consistent with the principles of the IPOA-Sharks and FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. They are informed by the precautionary approach in which it is realized that uncertainties exist within fisheries and the current state of knowledge, and that risk management measures must be followed to reduce the risks to the sustainability of the fish stocks, related fisheries, and their ecosystems.

1.4.1 Department of Fisheries and Oceans Act

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Act establishes the powers, duties, and functions of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), which extend to and include all matters over which Parliament has jurisdiction relating to:

1.4.2 Oceans Act

The Oceans Act gives the Minister of DFO the legal authority to bring together all of Canada’s oceans stakeholders to develop an oceans management strategy based on sustainable development and integrated management of activities and resources in estuarine, coastal, and marine waters. Marine protected areas can also be designated through regulations under this legislation.

This Act also defines Canada’s maritime zones, including its territorial sea and contiguous zone, its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and its continental shelf. The Act affirms the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of Canada over its EEZ and the sovereign rights of Canada over its continental shelf consistent with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Finally, the Act holds that conservation based on an ecosystem approach is of fundamental importance to maintaining biological diversity and productivity in the marine environment.

1.4.3 Fisheries Act

The Fisheries Act is the cornerstone of Canada’s fisheries management policy, providing broad powers to the Minister for the management, conservation, and protection of fish resources. These powers include discretion to:

While the regulation of commercial fishing is the most visible of DFO regulatory programs, the Act also applies to tidal and recreational fishing, freshwater fisheries, and Aboriginal fisheries.

Three sections of the Fisheries Act form the basis for fisheries management in Canada:

The Foreign Vessel Fishing Regulations, that were promulgated under the Fisheries Act, also contains the detailed management provisions governing foreign fishing, including close times, size limits, incidental catch limits, mesh size, closed areas and seasons.

1.4.4 Coastal Fisheries Protection Act

The Minister’s responsibility for regulating foreign fishing in Canadian fisheries waters is set out in the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act. This Act and its associated regulations provide the Minister with the authority to allow foreign fishing vessels access to Canadian fisheries waters or Canadian ports.

1.4.5 Species at Risk Act

The Species at Risk Act was created to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened. This Act protects species at risk, their residence and their critical habitats. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada was established as an advisory body under the auspices of the Species at Risk Act.

1.5 International Commitments

The Government of Canada recognizes that sustainability of fisheries is an international as well as a national challenge.

To help ensure the conservation and sustainable use of fisheries resources in international waters, Canada participates in several international and regional organizations and bodies concerned with fisheries management. DFO monitors the fishing activities of foreign-flagged vessels in areas of the high seas managed by regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs). In addition, DFO negotiates and administers fisheries-related agreements and treaties and provides expertise in the negotiation of trade agreements that include fisheries issues.

Canada has ratified and implemented the following international agreements that are, inter alia, key elements for conserving and managing shark species:

1.5.1 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is the comprehensive regime of law and order covering the world’s oceans and seas. Within UNCLOS are rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources. It enshrines the notion that all challenges related to ocean space are closely interrelated and need to be addressed as a whole. Canada ratified UNCLOS in November 2003.

The Convention establishes the requirements for signatories to conserve and manage targeted and associated species within EEZ waters and to cooperate with other States in the conservation and management of living resources in the areas of the high seas. Canada encourages broader participation in this Convention.

1.5.2 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement

The United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement is an implementing agreement for provisions of UNCLOS regarding the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks. Canada ratified UNFSA in August 1999 and is a strong supporter of the Agreement. Canada encourages its broader ratification and implementation.

UNFSA carries an obligation to apply the precautionary approach and ecosystem-based management when managing fisheries on the high seas and in waters under the jurisdiction of coastal States. It also obliges States to minimize pollution, waste, and discards of fish, and to exercise effective control over their fishing vessels on the high seas.

One of the most innovative aspects of UNFSA is the right of States to board and inspect vessels of other State parties in order to verify compliance with internationally agreed fishing rules of RFMOs. Finally, UNFSA provides a compulsory and binding dispute settlement mechanism to resolve conflicts in a peaceful manner.

1.5.3 Regional Fisheries Management Organizations

Canada is a member of several RFMOs, including the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Both NAFO and ICCAT have taken positions on shark management that support the principles and practices of the IPOA-Sharks. They encourage the complete reporting of all shark catches, the full utilization of shark carcasses (including restrictions on finning), and the reduction and release of shark bycatch. The 2006 United Nations General Assembly Sustainable Fisheries Resolution urges States to adopt these same principles.

In 2004, NAFO became the first RFMO to set fishery management limits for a shark (elasmobranch) species when it established a TAC of 13,500 tonnes for the thorny skate (Amblyraja radiata) within Canadian and international fisheries waters around the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

In addition to the measures outlined above, ICCAT has adopted a number of resolutions that support the study of stock status and bycatch levels for all sharks within ICCAT-managed fisheries and the collection and assessment of data on specific species including porbeagle, blue and shortfin mako sharks. It has also adopted voluntary agreements not to increase efforts to target these same species.

1.5.4 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries

The FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries is based on the principle that all States and users of fishery resources have an obligation to act responsibly so as to ensure the effective conservation and management of aquatic resources and ecosystems. The IPOA-Sharks expands upon the Code in its specific application to sharks.

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