The Porbeagle, Canada’s Shark
Unknown to many Canadians, the North Atlantic porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus) actually spends most of its life in Canadian waters ranges from northern Newfoundland into the Gulf of St. Lawrence and can truly be considered ‘Canada’s shark’.
- Porbeagle sharks are one of the most cold-tolerant pelagic shark species in the world. This is because they are one of several shark species that are actually warm-blooded
- If it isn’t caught for its meat and fins, or as bycatch in swordfish fisheries, the porbeagle may live up to 45 years and reach a maximum length of up to 3.5 metres
- Porbeagle sharks reach sexual maturity at 8 years for males and 13 to 19 for females. They give birth to 1-5 live pups.
- Some mating areas and pupping grounds are closed to fishing, while others remain open to fishing fleets that don’t mind catching and throwing back large numbers of undersized juvenile animals.
- Porbeagles eat mostly fish and squid, though like most sharks, they are often found with bits of garbage in their stomach as well. Yuck!
Unfortunately, Canada’s treatment of its resident shark hardly suits its reputation as a safe place for wildlife. Canada is the only country in the world that maintains a directed fishery for the endangered porbeagle shark, based on the ‘it’ll be fine so long as things go exactly as we predicted’ model of fisheries management. Under the current plan, porbeagle populations will be recovered in just over 100 years. And no, that’s not a typo.
Even though the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada recommended that porbeagles be listed as ‘Endangered’ under the Species at Risk Act, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans disagreed, due to the costs to the five fishermen who hold porbeagle licenses and the increased monitoring that would be required. The status of porbeagle could be described as biologically endangered, but politically abundant. Another reason for not listing the porbeagle as endangered is that it would require longline fleets to finally address the accidental bycatch of this animal when targeting swordfish and tuna.
There is hope for the porbeagle shark at the international level. In 2011, the European Union officially ended all fishing for this shark in the EU, and suggested that international action be taken to end fishing throughout the Atlantic. Canada prevented this measure from being passed, but as the rest of the world moves away from eating endangered animals, Canadian management might finally get the idea and work to protect Canada’s shark.
Why Should Canada Join the World to Protect Porbeagles?
- Porbeagle sharks are one of the most vulnerable in the Atlantic with population declines of up to 88% in the west and 90% in the east1
- The world is joining to give porbeagle sharks the best chance of recovery. Fishing for porbeagles is now banned in European Union waters and the Mediterranean Sea. The EU has proposed listing porbeagle sharks on the Convention on the International Trade for Endangered Species2, 3
- Canada refuses to join them and continues to allow fishing for porbeagles in our waters. Canada is now the only country allowing a directed fishery for this shark and allows many hundreds more landed as bycatch (when fishing for other fish) than other countries.
- Allowing fishing for this shark in Canada pushes its recovery time from decades to over 100 years. That is assuming there is no changes in the environment or fishing in that century. This is a risk the Canadian government is willing to accept. We do not think this is acceptable for an endangered species.
- Canada is blocking the adoption of a proposal to ban fishing for porbeagles in the whole Atlantic so it can protect its fishery. Refusing to co-operate internationally leaves a loophole letting other countries continue to land porbeagles as bycatch and making it hard to monitor possible unreported fishing on international waters. A total ban is more air tight.
- Managing species that migrate across many countries borders and oceans requires international cooperation. That is why ICCAT exists. This only works if countries can compromise. Canada needs to show leadership
- We argue that Canada's management plan for porbeagle fishing and bycatch is risky and the 'so called' catch limit of 185 tonnes is actually not enforced. If the market for porbeagle shark returns to the levels a few years ago, Canada does not have a mechanism to limit numbers caught. Read our analysis here.
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