WCS has been working on behalf of sharks and rays since the mid-1990s. WCS and partner NGOs, with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, are developing a global 10-year initiative to conserve the earth’s sharks and rays. Much of our current work is site-based and includes such activities as: science and research; education and outreach (including through the New York Aquarium); policy and advocacy; and training and capacity-building.
The Wildlife Conservation Society's extensive network of field programs include several based in major shark-fishing countries. WCS uses a multi-pronged approach that involves working at grassroots, national, regional and international levels to identify and mitigate threats to sharks and rays, and is committed to collaborate and engage with stakeholders such as fishing communities, academic institutions, professional networks, regional regulatory bodies, NGOs, governments and other actors.
In March 2013, seven heavily traded threatened shark and ray species were listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). WCS, with a coalition of partners, is working to leverage the legal obligations that these CITES listings require to advocate for legal, sustainable and transparent trade in shark and ray products. These efforts are part of a broader strategy to conserve sharks and rays that integrates field research, threat mitigation, the promotion of effective fisheries management and trade policies, capacity-building and public education to meet our overarching conservation objectives.
In our role within the Global Partnership, WCS is leading efforts to develop a global conservation strategy that will meet the following overarching conservation objectives: 1) protect threatened shark and ray species; 2) improve shark and ray fisheries management; 3) improve control and monitoring of trade in shark and ray products; and 4) reduce market demand for shark fins, manta and devil ray gill plates, and other products from endangered or overfished shark and ray species.
The virtually ubiquitous and relentless fishing pressure (both directed and as bycatch) and international market demand for fins, meat and other products are the primary range-wide threats to most species of sharks and rays; loss of habitat and pollution are other threats. Sharks and rays are targeted in commercial, artisinal and recreational fisheries and taken as “bycatch” in fisheries targeting other species like tuna and swordfish. Furthermore, sharks and rays cannot easily recover from overfishing - unlike most bony fishes that mature quickly and lay millions of eggs at a time, cartilaginous fishes mature quite slowly and bear relatively few young.