More than half of the 41 species of shark living in the Mediterranean are threatened with extinction, one third of them acute. This is the conclusion of a recently published report by the environmental protection organization WWF. The causes have been known for a long time: Overfishing, illegal fishing, but also the dramatic plastic pollution “have drastically decimated shark and ray populations,” complains Simone Niedermüller, marine biologist at the WWF. Poor management of fisheries, lack of controls, and label fraud “make the Mediterranean the most dangerous habitat for shark and ray species in the world,” says Niedermüller.
The majority of threatened species are unwanted by-catches that are thrown back into the sea dying. According to the report, more than 60 species were registered in trawl nets. Enormous numbers die in illegal drift nets. Highly endangered great white sharks die mainly in purse seine nets of tuna vessels.
Also jointly responsible is the rampant label fraud with fish products. “DNA tests have shown that consumers who eat swordfish often grab shark meat marketed too hastily. This also involves health risks, as the mercury content of some shark species is far above the legal limits,” warns Niedermüller.
It is common practice in many coastal restaurants to foist blue sharks on unsuspecting tourists instead of swordfish. The restaurants buy the illegally caught fish from illegal fishermen – and then earn twice as much when they change the name to the high-priced swordfish, because the dish is sold illegally and taxes are not paid. Tourists in the Mediterranean should therefore avoid swordfish for the sake of sharks and their own health.
Anglers in front of Croatia and Spain should be told that almost all pelagic sharks are protected and must be released. Simple rule: Everything that has pointed teeth must be returned.
Pollution by plastic waste is, by the way, another major threat to sharks. They confuse plastic with food or get caught in plastic objects and ghost nets: 20 percent of plastic waste is lost cargo or fishing gear According to the WWF, 33,800 plastic bottles also land in the Mediterranean on average – per MINUTE! Together with other plastic waste, this adds up to more than half a million tons of plastic.