Shortfin mako sharks, the fastest shark in the ocean, scored an international victory when countries voted for a proposal to strengthen the protection of shortfin and longfin mako sharks during a global wildlife conference in August convened by members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the treaty that governs international wildlife trade. Mako sharks had not previously been protected under CITES.
Shortfin makos are captured mainly as bycatch in other offshore fisheries but kept for their high-value meat and fins. The biology and migration patterns of this species, also coincidentally the athletics mascot of Nova Southeastern University, is a major topic of study by researchers from the university’s Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI). A 2017 collaborative study by the GHRI, the University of Rhode Island and other colleagues highlighted that the fishing mortality rate of shortfin makos in the western North Atlantic was 10 times higher than previously estimated from catches reported by fishermen. The new data suggested that this ocean apex predator is experiencing overfishing, raising serious concerns about whether the current levels of fishery catches in the North Atlantic are sustainable.
“The CITES listing is a significant step in helping protect these animals,” said Mahmood Shivji, Ph.D., director of the GHRI and professor at Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography. “We’ve been studying mako sharks for many years, and have seen first-hand from our tracking studies the excessive exploitation this species is experiencing in the western North Atlantic Ocean.”
Under the just ratified CITES Appendix II listing, mako shark products can’t be traded across international borders unless it can be shown by the exporting country that mako fishing doesn’t threaten their chances for survival.
“This increased protection for mako sharks is much needed,” said Greg Jacoski, executive director of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, which helped fund NSU’s GHRI study. “Mako sharks are very important, both ecologically and economically, and their population cannot keep up with the current rate of removal.”
The decline of mako populations is traced to the overfishing of young makos, which impacts reproductive rates, and from the natural deaths of mature females over the last 30 years. According to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas shark species group, the mako population would continue to decline until at least 2035, even it fishing of the species ceased immediately.
The closest relative to the great white shark, makos are the cheetahs of the shark species. As the fastest species of sharks, makos can swim up to 60 mph.