Conservation in Shark Sanctuaries
Published:07 Nov.2023    Source:Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech researchers in the College of Natural Resources and Environment are assessing the efficacy of shark sanctuaries by developing a modeling system that utilizes publicly accessible fishing data to determine shark catch and mortality rates. Published in the journal Science Advances, their findings represent an important step in utilizing data science to tackle oceanic conservation challenges.
To estimate catch and mortality rates for oceanic shark species, the research team utilized positioning data of fishing vessels from Global Fishing Watch, an open-access website that provides a global view of commercial fishing activities around the world to advance ocean governance. The group also collected publicly available data from regional fisheries management organizations to create a model that would estimate the impacts of longline fishing on seven species of open-ocean sharks. The team's models estimate that 286,820 large sharks were caught within the eight sanctuary areas the group focused on in 2019, with 109,729 of those sharks dying as a result of the stress of capture. The researchers learned that blue and silky sharks represented more than 70 percent of the sharks caught, with thresher and oceanic whitetip sharks also experiencing sizable capture and mortality numbers.

What this paper does, for the first time, is provide clear numbers on how many sharks are being caught and how many are dying as a result of fishing in these waters. utilizing multiple streams of data to tackle a specific conservation question marks an important stride forward in fisheries research. The research like this marks an important inroad toward considering new approaches to understanding fish populations, as well as the impacts that humans have on open oceans species.