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Science - AP
U.S. Exhorts Nations to Protect Sharks

Mon Nov 15, 8:46 PM ET
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By CAIN BURDEAU, Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS - The United States on Monday proposed broad international measures to curb the slaughter of sharks in the Atlantic Ocean and encourage the study and preservation of threatened shark populations throughout the world.

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The proposals were made at the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, or ICCAT, which also covers conservation of other large fish. This is the first time the United States has been host of the session.

"I think sharks have been abused over the last 10 years," said William Hogarth, the head of the National Marine Fisheries Service. "We haven't managed sharks in a very sustainable manner."

The U.S. proposals include a ban on the practice known as shark finning, reduction of the number of fishing vessels that hunt sharks, collection of more data on shark populations and development of fishing nets that would not harm sharks.

"This proposal is reflecting a recognition that globally sharks are in trouble," said David Helvarg, president of the ocean advocacy group Blue Frontier Campaign. But, he added, "It may be too little too late."

According to the United Nations (news - web sites), more than 100 million sharks are killed each year. A study last year by Dalhousie University marine scientists estimated that 90 percent of the world's large fish — including sharks — have disappeared since 1950. Sharks are especially threatened by overfishing because they are so slow to reproduce and reach maturity.

There are few international restrictions on shark fishing and trade. The United States has already taken steps to stop shark finning in U.S. water and to prevent fishermen from selling fins at U.S. ports unless they have the whole carcass on board. The ban went into effect in 1993 in the Atlantic and in the Pacific Ocean in 2002.

Shark finning is the act of slicing off a shark's fin and throwing the carcass overboard, leaving room for more fins. Shark fins are a delicacy in Asian countries and command high prices — higher than the fish's meat.

The demand for shark fins has shot up in the past decade, mostly fueled by demand in Asia where shark fin soup sells for more than $100 in Singapore, according to WildAid, an environmental group that has called for an end to shark finning.


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