The Case of the Blue Shark in the Mediterranean Sea, Episodes 2 and 3

blue shark head on a market stall
Carijonas
Majorca, Spain
The Case of the Blue Shark in the Mediterranean Sea, Episodes 2 and 3

Following the surprising presence of Blue Sharks sliced and displayed in the markets of Mallorca, as explored in the first episode of the podcast, the second and third episodes of this Carijonas podcast series provide us with a more comprehensive view. This time, we delve into fishery management, catch quotas, and the human health implications associated with the consumption of this species. 

While the legal justification for finding sliced Blue Sharks in the main markets of Spain may exist, scientists and experts agree that the management of this species falls short of sustainability expectations. Ali Hood, conservation director at the Shark Trust NGO and observer at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), argues that the annual limit of 30,000 tons, representing a 23% reduction in catches of this species in the North Atlantic compared to the previous limit, is insufficient. Similarly, the agreed-upon limits for the South Atlantic set below 28,000 tons annually (a 4.2% reduction), are also considered inadequate. These decisions were made during ICCAT meetings in November 2023 in Egypt, where all stakeholders in various fisheries converge. 

The term "fishery" implies management, marine species capture, and consumption. Therefore, various economic and political interests converging in ICCAT meetings try to reconcile these aspects, even at the expense of the species itself. Although contracting parties invest long hours in binding negotiations, scientists often leave the negotiation rooms dissatisfied. As anticipated by Alex Bartolí, a scientist specializing in sharks and fisheries at the Submon organization, in the second episode, the historical management of the Blue Shark has been weak. Ali Hood reinforces this stance by stating that in the last ICCAT meeting, they expected limits of 20,000 tons annually for the Blue Shark in the North Atlantic and less than 25,000 tons annually in the South Atlantic. 

These limits would not be significant if we do not consider the disappearance of 96% of Blue Shark populations in the Mediterranean Sea. This precedent of overexploitation questions the recent decisions of the most important fisheries organization in the Atlantic. However, it is crucial to remember that the allocation of quotas responds to a complex system of supply and demand that makes the meat of this species available in various parts of the world. 

Interestingly, this system positions Spain as one of the world's leading Blue Shark fishing nations. 

The Spanish fishing fleet is responsible for 25% of the recorded catches, while Taiwan contributes another 25%.

According to the report on the economic value of the Blue Shark presented by the OCEANA organization at the end of 2022, Spain also leads in the importation of this meat. In fact, 70% of Blue Shark meat is consumed in Spanish households, according to data from Interfish Spain and AECOC. 

These figures highlight the economic value of the Blue Shark in the market, making it the most captured shark species globally. According to Oceana's report, 60% of all shark catches in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans are Blue Sharks. From another perspective, nearly 10 million specimens of this species abound in the market and are featured in a variety of dishes for a market with a growing interest in a diet based on this type of meat. 

However, the health consequences of consuming this meat are not entirely clear. Consequently, there is no health prohibition preventing its availability in the Spanish market. Nevertheless, scientific research associates Blue Shark meat consumption with certain diseases. There is even a public document in ICCAT that mentions, "High concentrations of lead have been found in the Blue Shark, which, in some cases, can pose a danger to human health (López et al., 2013)." 

Several sources during our visit to Palma de Mallorca agreed that, to contextualize the health issues arising from consuming this meat, it was necessary to speak with Alice Cimino from the Oceankin organization, a shark scientist who closely monitors this species by sampling specimens of various ages and oceans. Alice explains that, among the harmful toxins for humans in this meat, in addition to the lead mentioned in the ICCAT document, there are mercury, arsenic, and beta-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA). The high concentrations of these elements in the analyses are because Blue Sharks occupy the highest trophic level, feeding on various marine species throughout their maturity period, accumulating all the toxins they hunt for survival, which could be present in their meat, cartilage, fins, and, consequently, on our plate. 

In summary, the three podcast episodes on the Blue Shark Case in the Mediterranean address the most influential issues for the desired sustainability of the species in the context of accidental capture in the Mediterranean and overfishing in other oceans. Meanwhile, the allocation of fishing quotas in ICCAT responds to meeting the demand of a market that finds the species in the most important markets in Spain and presents it as sustainable fishing with countless health benefits, despite scientific evidence. 

You can listen to the full second and third episodes in English here:

 

  • Listen to Episode 1 of this podcast series. 

This story was produced with support from Internews' Earth Journalism Network. It was first broadcast in Carijonas on 1 December 2023 in Spanish; this version has been adapted by EJN's Mediterranean Media Initiative.

Banner image: Prionace glauca in a supermarket / Credit: Citron / CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikicommons.

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