Endangered sharks and rays are caught in protected areas

Using artisanal fishing gear, more endangered sharks and rays are caught in the Mediterranean in partially protected marine areas than in those without any type of protection. This is revealed by a study conducted by Italian researchers, who are calling for better management of fishing in these conservation areas.

Marine protected areas are promoted as a conservation tool for endangered species, where fishing needs to be controlled, but sometimes the goal is not achieved.

A new study, published publicly in Nature Communicationreveals that threatened sharks and rays in the Mediterranean Sea, including species considered critically endangered, are caught more frequently in partially protected marine areas than in those without protected status.


The study on endangered sharks and rays

Its authors are researchers from the University of Palermo and the Zoological Station Anton Dohrn (SZN) – Marine Center of Sicily in the same Italian city, who used photographic samples and image analysis to compile a database of 1,256 small-scale fishing operations at 11 sites. in France, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Slovenia and Greece.

Using statistical models, scientists analyzed catch information, representing 24 species of these elasmobranch fishes, with 517 specimens caught in partially protected areas, compared to 358 caught in unprotected areas, indicating an impact of artisanal fishing.

Manfredi Di Lorenzo, first author of the study, explains that “In these areas it is allowed to fish, but only with an authorization which is generally granted to local fishermen, whose activity is on a small scale (artisanal)”.

Elasmobranchs are a subclass of cartilaginous fish (whose skeleton is made of cartilage) that includes sharks and rays. In the past they were very abundant in the Mediterranean Sea, but over time they have declined due to overfishing.

Antonio Calò, co-author of the study and researcher at the University of Palermo, explains to the SINC that, although some are considered in danger of extinction, their capture is generally authorized, with the exception of several species included in the Barcelona Convention.

The threat of artisanal fishing for sharks and rays

Currently the influence of small-scale fishing on the populations of these animals is little studied in the Mediterranean, due to the lack of tracking devices on the boats.

It is known that the activity of artisanal fisheries, which represent the majority of boats that operate in the Mediterranean region analyzed, affects elasmobranch species, but understanding whether protected areas actually serve to conserve them is a challenge.

sharks, rays, extinction, artisanal fishing, protected areas, Mediterranean, conservationSpecimens of common ray (‘Raja clavata’, left) and two species of sharks (‘Scyliorhinus stellaris’ and ‘Scyliorhinus canicula’, right), captured in Los Freus, Formentera. /Francisco Sobrado

Improve management plans for marine protected areas

We believe that animals prefer to stay in protected areas −totally or partially− because they are more prosperous and safer.», points out Antonio Di Franco, researcher at the SZN – Sicily Marine Center and another signatory of the study.

The authors argue that these areas play an important role in protecting threatened elasmobranchs, but additional management measures and stricter law enforcement are needed to ensure successful conservation outcomes.

Fishermen should be involved and informed of the risk that many of these species are at“says DiFranco, “and it would also help to modify fishing techniques so that they are more selective and only catch certain animals”.

Currently, most information on the capture of elasmobranchs comes from industrial fishing. What needs to be done as soon as possible is to monitor the specimens caught by artisanal fisheries. It is necessary information and there is very little data in the world. In the Mediterranean, this is very important, especially since artisanal fishing represents 80% of the entire commercial fleet.concludes Di Lorenzo.


Di Lorenzo et al. “Artisanal fisheries catch more threatened elasmobranchs inside partially protected areas than in unprotected areas”. Nature Communication2022.


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