Shark catching is driving the animals to the brink of extinction, with one in three species critically endangered and around 73 million sharks caught and killed each year.
Sharks have been portrayed in popular culture as man-eating killing machines, leading to a substantial lack of public support for their protection, in comparison to the controversy surrounding whale or seal hunting.
Yet sharks accounted for just 6 deaths in 2010, meaning that humans kill around 12 million sharks for every human killed by one.
Advocacy groups are now calling for great protection for sharks, warning that the lack of an international law will see all shark species decimated within just a few decades.
“Some say we’ve past the turning point; I hope that is not the case,” says Matt Rand, director of the Pew Environment Group’s Global Shark Conservation Campaign.
Sharks are critical to the balance of the world’s marine eco systems, Matt Rand told CNN, pointing out that sharks have developed their role over the last 400 million years, making them essential to the preservation of the oceans.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, as many as 70% of all fishing areas may have now been over-utilised, rendering shark populations devastated in those areas.
A sustainable management plan has been in place for the past ten years, but it has had little to no effect because international law requires that each country manage its own sustainability measures, which leaves many countries, such as India, Indonesia and Taiwan, open to do nothing.
Those countries that have implemented the management plan, such as Palau, Honduras and the Maldives are seeing growth in shark populations, which has led to a thriving shark tourism market in many coastal communities.
Scott Henderson of Conservation International believes that the over-fishing of sharks will have a hugely detrimental effect on the world’s oceans, disrupting the balance of many key marine species.
“Whether you care about sharks themselves, or the oceans they regulate, it’s in everyone’s interest to curb the massive overfishing of sharks that is putting oceans at risk,” he told CNN.