The Marine Policy paper makes plain that current shark fishing levels are not sustainable. Annual shark exploitation rates range from 6.4 to 7.9 percent, the paper reported, but shark rebound rates average 4.9 percent a year. A CITES listing would mean permits could not be issued unless fishermen could show they had changed their practices to fish the sharks more sustainably. “That should help the population of a heavily exploited species to recover,” Shiffman says. And recovery means preservation of some of the ocean’s most important species.
“Hammerheads and manta rays in particular are very iconic animals,” Shiffman says. “They’re culturally significant and very important in terms of ecotourism.” Shark-related tourism added $800 million to the Bahamian economy alone over the past 20 years, according to Pew. The predators also are important to the health of entire marine ecosystems. “Oceanic sharks do a pretty good job of maintaining strong tuna stocks by culling the small and genetically weaker ones, similar to the role of the lion in the Serengeti,” MacPherson says.
The bottom line, as was true with whales and still is with bluefin tuna and other threatened fishes, is that ensuring shark species’ survival also ensures the survival of multiple fisheries. “Pro-shark protection or pro-whale protection is not anti-fishing,” MacPherson says. “If we want fishing for all the benefits it derives, whether it’s sustenance or it’s economic, if we want that for the future, we have to be willing to change our practices.”