THE PROJECT

In the Mediterranean Sea, at least half of the rays (50%, 16 of 32 species) face an elevated risk of extinction, as well as 54% of sharks (22 of 41).

There are many causes that led to the drastic decrease in the number of individuals of many species, mostly due to human activities: pollution, modification of the habitat, fishing.
In addition to being targeted for professional fishing, in many cases they are the subject of by catch: although they are not the target species of fishermen, they accidentally become trapped in fishing gear.

LifeElife aims to promote the conservation of Elasmobranches in Italy, thanks to the study and application of alternative fishing tools, which allow to limit accidental catches and increase the survival of caught sharks. In particular, circular fishing hooks will be studied for use in longline fishing, and shark excluder device to be used in trawling.

A database will also be created to increase knowledge about these animals, promoting the exchange of information.

The whole project will be realized thanks to the close collaboration with the fishermen who will be the protagonists of the field experimentation activities.

A national communication and awareness campaign aimed at stakeholders and the general public will allow the dissemination of conservation messages and encourage the adoption of sustainable behaviour.

THE CONTEXT

Since the mid-1980s, cartilaginous fishes are under growing fishing pressure. In the Mediterranean Sea, overfishing is mainly due to a continuing by-catch generally occurring in fisheries targeting other commercial stocks, mainly coastal fisheries using demersal trawls and bottom-set gillnets. In 2018, Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn carried out 62 interviews to fishermen in the major Italian fishing harbours: more than 88% of fishermen usually catch sharks, 75% still alive, especially with longline fishing.

In 2015 an estimated 14.065 tons of sharks and rays in the Mediterranean were accidentally caught up in nets used by large trawlers, a phenomenon that also threatens dolphins, whales, sea turtles, and even sea birds.

The main deep-water species exploited are Centrophorus squamosus and Dalatias licha, caught in deep-sea fishing.

The following species are classified as endangered or more and will be targeted by the project: Squalus acanthias and Mustelus spp 69,09%, Prionace glauca 45,45%, Isurus oxyrinchus 12,73%, Lamna nasus 10,91%, Alopias spp. 9,09%. Carcharhinus plumbeus by-catch is 9% & is also caught by illegal fishing inside the MPA, so a specific conservation action is needed. ELIFE also targets other species: Cethorinus maximus-critically endangered, and Dalatias licha endangered.

The Mediterranean Sea is one of the 3 hotspots with seriously threatened sharks and rays, frequently captured by bottom trawling and longlines with a very large impact on the Mediterranean populations.

IUCN indicates at European level more than 30% of elasmobranch species as threatened and more than 50% at Mediterranean level.

ELIFE targeted area will involve both bottom trawl and the longline fisheries. Despite some recent efforts in EU to reduce shark by-catch and mortality (i.e., adoption of the European Commission’s Action plan for the Conservation and Management of Sharks, and adoption of the Council Regulation (EU) 2017/127), the EC goals is far from being achieved and conservation needs to be set up there.

ELIFE will contribute to achieve the European Commission goals with conservation actions on shark species in the European Red List of marine fishes, (IUCN 2015)

Gli obiettivi specifici del progetto sono:

  • riduzione delle catture accessorie di molti elasmobranchi minacciati, (inseriti nella lista IUCN come minacciate di estinzione, in via di estinzione e vulnerabili), durante le attività di pesca professionale.
  • riduzione della mortalità di elasmobranchi minacciati durante le attività di pesca professionale.
  • eliminazione delle catture di squalo grigio (in via di estinzione), Carcharhinus plumbeus, causate dalla pesca a strascico nelle acque dell’isola di Lampione.riduzione delle catture accidentali, delle collisioni e del disturbo antropico sullo squalo elefante (in via di estinzione), Cetorhinus maximus, nel Mare della Sardegna settentrionale.
  • implementazione di adeguate misure di conservazione con un approccio ecosistemico alla pesca, attraverso la preparazione e l’adozione di specifici piani di gestione locale.
  • supporto alle autorità di gestione per le politiche di conservazione e gestione degli squali, fornendo dati più recenti e approfonditi per la valutazione dello stato ambientale e l’attuazione di attività coerenti con un un piano di gestione.
  • favorire l’adozione di attrezzi da pesca a basso impatto, che riducono le catture accessorie di squalo da parte di pescatori professionisti, sostenendoli nella raccolta di fondi.
  • coinvolgimento dei pescatori del Mediterraneo, rafforzando il loro ruolo nella conservazione della biodiversità marina.
  • replicabilità e trasferibilità in altri paesi UE-Mediterraneo di buone pratiche per la mitigazione delle catture accessorie di squali e la riduzione della mortalità.
  • aumento della consapevolezza dell’importanza degli elasmobranchi per il mantenimento del buono stato ambientale marino.
  • sensibilizzazione del grande pubblico e delle parti interessate sulla vulnerabilità degli elasmobranchi, al fine di promuovere comportamenti responsabili.