Shark fins drying in Hong Kong. New research indicates global shark and ray populations have declined 71 per cent in the past 50 years due to overfishing. (Teale Phelps Bondaroff/OceansAsia)

Shark fins drying in Hong Kong. New research indicates global shark and ray populations have declined 71 per cent in the past 50 years due to overfishing. (Teale Phelps Bondaroff/OceansAsia)

Shark and eels see alarming 71% global decline

B.C. researchers call their findings a wakeup call for world leaders

Fifty years of over-fishing has contributed to a staggering 71 per cent decline in global shark and ray populations, B.C. scientists have determined.

Nathan Pacoureau, a Simon Fraser University (SFU) alumnus and lead author of the paper published this month in the journal Nature, wants the findings to serve as a wake-up call for world leaders.

“We can see the alarming consequences of over-fishing in the ocean through the dramatic declines of some of its most iconic inhabitants,” Pacoureau said. “It’s something policy makers can no longer ignore. Countries should work toward new international shark and ray protections, but can start immediately by fulfilling the obligations already agreed internationally.”

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The research, conducted by the Global Shark Trends Project, a collaboration between researchers from SFU, James Cook University, the Georgia Aquarium and the International Union for Conservation of Nature Shark Specialist Group, reconstructed the global abundance of oceanic rays and sharks dating back to 1970. Their decline since follows an 18-fold increase in fishing activity.

SFU biologist Nick Dulvy, a paper co-author and Canada Research Chair in marine biodiversity and conservation calls the findings especially stark given their global context.

“If we don’t do anything, it will be too late. It’s much worse than other animal populations we’ve been looking at,” he said.

“It’s an incredible rate of decline steeper than most elephant and rhino declines, and those animals are iconic in driving conservation efforts on land.”

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quinn.bender@blackpress.ca