Endangered sharks and rays are captured in protected areas

At marine protected areas They are promoted as a conservation tool for endangered species, where fishing must be controlled, but sometimes the objective is not achieved.

A new study, openly published in Nature Communicationsreveals that endangered sea sharks and rays Mediterraneanincluding species considered in critical dangerare captured more frequently in partially protected marine areas than in those that do not have a protection figure.

Artisanal fisheries capture more endangered sharks and rays, including critically endangered species, in partially protected marine areas of the Mediterranean than in unprotected areas.

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

Through statistical models The scientists analyzed the information on the captures, counting 24 species of these elasmobranchs, with 517 specimens captured in partially protected areas, against 358 captured in unprotected areas, which points to an impact of the artisanal fishing.

Manfredi DiLorenzofirst author of the study, explains to SINC that “fishing is allowed within these areas, but only with an authorization that is usually granted to local fishermen, whose activity is small scale (also called ‘handmade’)”.

Specimens of common skate (‘Raja clavata’, left) and two species of sharks (‘Scyliorhinus stellaris’ and ‘Scyliorhinus canicula’, right), captured at Los Freus, Formentera. / Francisco Sobrado

Elasmobranchs are a subclass of cartilaginous fish (whose skeleton is made of cartilage) which includes sharks s stripes. In the past, they were very abundant in the Mediterranean Sea, but over time they decreased due to overfishing.

Although some of these elasmobranchs are considered endangered, their capture is generally allowed, with the exception of a few species.

Antonio Calò, University of Palermo

Antonio Caloco-author of the study and researcher at the University of Palermo, tells SINC that, although some consider themselves in endangeredin general their capture is allowed, with the exception of several species included in the Barcelona Convention.

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Currently, the influence of artisanal fisheries 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 artisanal fishing activity, which represents the majority of vessels operating in the Mediterranean region analyzed, affects elasmobranch species, but understanding whether protected areas really serve to protect them is a challenge.

Improve management plans for marine protected areas

“We think the animals prefer to remain in protected areas −totally or partially− because they are more prosperous and safe”, points out the SINC Antonio Francoresearcher at SZN – Sicily Marine Center and another of the study’s signatories.

It is necessary to monitor the specimens caught by artisanal fisheries, which represent 80% of the entire commercial fleet in the Mediterranean

Manfredi Di Lorenzo, SZN – Marine Center of Sicily

The authors argue that these areas play an important role in protecting endangered elasmobranchs, but management measures additions and stricter enforcement of laws to ensure successful conservation outcomes.

“I would have to to involve fishermen and inform them about the risk to many of these species”, says Di Franco, “and would also help to change the fishing techniques to be more selective and allow only a few animals to be captured”.

“Currently, most of the information about the capture of elasmobranchs comes from the industrial fishing. What should start to be done as soon as possible is the monitoring of the specimens captured by artisanal fisheries. It is necessary information and there is very little data in the world. In the Mediterranean, this is very important, especially considering that artisanal fisheries represent 80% of all the commercial fleet”, concludes Di Lorenzo.


di Lorenzo et al. “Small-scale fisheries capture more endangered elasmobranchs within partially protected areas than in unprotected areas”. Nature Communications2022

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