Sharks are extremely important to our marine ecosystems and they are in trouble. Compared to the 1960s, most species have only 10 – 20 % of their populations left. Sea turtle populations have declined by as much as 75% over the last 20 years.

Globally, surface longline fishing is one of the main causes of catastrophic declines in the populations of the oceans’ large predators and sea turtles.

Canada’s surface longline fleet is no exception.

  • 100 000 sharks.

    • Blue shark
      Status: near threatened*
    • Short-fin Mako
      Status: vulnerable
    • Porbeagle
      Status: vulnerable

  • 1200 Loggerhead sea turtles
    Status: endangered
  • 170 Leatherback sea turtles
    Status: critically endangered

*International Union for the Conservation of Nature listing

Staggering numbers of these IUCN red-list species being caught. The Canadian government regulators are not putting any limits in place to reduce these numbers. In fact, they are promoting the fishery as an example of Canadian sustainability. While swordfish may be doing ok, catching roughly 100 000 sharks as unwanted ‘bycatch’ when trying to catch about 20 000 swordfish is not ok.

It is shameful of Canada to be promoting the status quo and not taking its share of responsibility for contributing to declines of sensitive species across the Atlantic. They manage the ‘commercial’ species and ignore the rest. It seems that an animal only counts to this government if it can be bought and sold.

How does this fishery work?

Surface (or pelagic) longline fishing is a non-selective, passive gear type. A mainline is rolled out from the boat stretching between 30-60km long. This mainline floats near the top of the water column with between 500-1500 baited hooks hanging off of it. This incredible long line of hooks with food on them attracts all sorts of animals – more than just what the fishers are aiming for. These animals can end up hooked or entangled resulting in injury and death.

Where is this fishery happening?

The Atlantic Canadian swordfish longline fleet fishes off the coast of Nova Scotia. Ninety percent of their catch is sent to the U.S market to be sold. The fishery is also regulated by ICCAT, the international body who sets standards. Last November, Hector went to Paris for the ICCAT meeting to make sure Canadian sharks had a voice and worked with organizations from around the world pushing for shark conservation policies. Surface longline fishing for swordfish, sharks, and other large pelagic species has become widespread around the world since the 1960s.

Are there ways to make this fishery less harmful to the marine environment?

Yes, groups in Canada and around the world are asking for the following conservation measures to be put in place:

  1. Scientifically based limits on the amount of each bycatch animal that can be caught. Once the fishery reaches this catch limit it would be closed for the season
  2. Human or video observers on every fishing trip to enforce limits and to get a better idea of all the marine animals that are being caught
  3. Work with fishermen to develop of gear modification and strategies to help avoid catching non-target animals
  4. More incentives for swordfish to be fished by harpoon instead of longline

Download the full proposal here

Is there another way to fish swordfish?

Yes. Nova Scotia, Canada has one of the last remaining traditional harpoon fishing fleets in the world. Harpooning for swordfish is a very selective way of fishing with no bycatch. You can support this fleet by asking for harpooned swordfish at your local seafood restaurant or supermarket.

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