/ ©: Richard Herrmann / SeaPics.com


Protecting Canadian Shark Populations

Most sharks are vulnerable to overexploitation due to their slow growth, late maturity, low reproductive rates, and long life. Globally, sharks and their relatives are among the most threatened marine vertebrates on Earth. Large open-water or 'pelagic' sharks, such as great whites, are among the most threatened. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, it is estimated that 60% of pelagic sharks are currently threatened with extinction. As many of these species are wide-ranging top predators, their loss may have far-reaching consequences for marine ecosystems.

Twenty-eight species of shark have been reported in Canadian waters; fourteen of which can be found in the Pacific and twenty in the Atlantic and Arctic. Close to half of these species are considered to be globally threatened; still most Canadians remain unaware that sharks regularly occur in our waters. Evidence indicates that many populations of these species have drastically declined.
Blue Shark, North Atlantic, USA / ©: National Geographic Stock/Paul Sutherland / WWF
Blue Shark, North Atlantic, USA
© National Geographic Stock/Paul Sutherland / WWF

What are the main threats to Sharks in Canadian waters?

In Canada, unsustainable fishing practices, in particular the unintentional capture of sharks in fisheries targeting tunas, swordfish or groundfish have caused shark populations to drastically decline. 

‘Bycatch’, or the unintentional capture of non-target species in commercial fisheries, is perhaps the single most significant threat to sharks in Canadian waters. Little is known about the distribution of sharks in Canadian waters and ways to minimize the incidence of bycatch and overall shark mortality. Learn more about bycatch.

Demand for shark fins
Shark ‘finning’, the removal of only the fins from sharks and dumping the remainder while at sea, is illegal in Canada; however, Canada is importing unsustainable shark products, including fins, for consumption and, globally, the growing trade of shark fins has become a threat to many shark species. The fin trade today is considered to be a primary driver in shark exploitation.

Changes in the marine environment
Destructive fishing activities, marine waste and coastal developments can have serious impacts on marine habitats which sharks depend on. Climate change impacts on the marine ecosystem can also be a cause of concern for sharks, particularly in terms of how population distributions and habitats for sharks, as well as their prey, may be affected.
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 / ©: ShARCC
ShARCC, a collaborative project between WWF-Canada and Dalhousie University, aims to promote shark conservation in Atlantic Canada.
 / ©: Steven Campana
© Steven Campana
Identification Guide to Sharks, Skates, Rays and Chimaeras of Atlantic Canada
 / ©: Brendal Davis
© Brendal Davis

What is WWF doing for Sharks in Canada?

Collaborative discussions
WWF-Canada is committed to working with partners to address the main priorities for shark conservation in Canada. Following the first Atlantic Shark Forum, held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the Pacific Shark Workshop, held in Vancouver, British Columbia, top national priorities were identified that, if addressed, would significantly advance conservation and management of sharks and inspire collaboration between different interest groups. View the final report on the Atlantic forum and Pacific workshop.

On-the water solutions
To address the threat of unintentional capture, or bycatch, WWF is working with partners from industry, government and academia to find practical on-the-water solutions.

We are working together to increase the capacity of observers and fishermen to identify shark and their relatives - the skates, rays and chimeras (collectively called Chondrichthyans) - through the development of a shark identification guide (view the guide) and the provision of identification training. As well, we are working together to improve the collection of shark-related data by commercial and recreational fishermen. In March 2011, a multi-stakeholder meeting was convened, in collaboration with industry, to standardize the data collection protocol to assign the body condition of live sharks caught in commercial fisheries or for research (used as a proxy to determine how many sharks released alive survive). These measures will aid in the investigation of incidence of bycatch and post-release mortality of sharks impacted by our commercial and recreational fisheries.

In order to better understand the current situation for our shark populations we are working with commercial fishermen to gather their traditional fishing knowledge. To do this, we are conducting a survey of fishermen to get their perspectives regarding sharks, shark capture, bycatch hotspots and mitigation measures currently used by the fleet. In collaboration with researchers at Dalhousie University we are analyzing data on bycatch of sharks and their relatives in commercial fisheries with the goal being to identify bycatch hotspots in Atlantic Canadian waters, levels of bycatch for at risk shark species and possible mitigation measures.

We’ve also been actively working with all partners to test innovative solutions to reduce shark bycatch in commercial fisheries. A pilot study examining the use of rare earth metals to deter sharks from being caught on pelagic longlines was conducted in September 2011. Results showed that for this fishery, the use of rare-earth metals was not effective in reducing the bycatch of the main shark species caught, blue sharks, nor is it a feasible option. A paper on this work has just been submitted for publication and will be released soon.

In collaboration with Art Gaetan, a recreational shark fisherman with over 20 years experience, we developed best catch, handle and release practices to ensure sharks caught in recreational and commercial fisheries are handled and released in the best condition possible to ensure survival. We’ve also been working with the recreational shark fishing derbies in Nova Scotia to implement these practices.
View the brochure.

WWF-Canada’s work on the conservation of shark species in Atlantic Canada is supported by the Government of Canada Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk, CSL Group Inc. and the Canadian Wildlife Federation.


Updated June 12, 2015