Research prioritisation to manage sharks and rays in South African Fisheries

da Silva C, Lamberth S, Kerwath S (2023) Research prioritisation to manage sharks and rays in South African Fisheries. In: IOTC - 19th Working Party on Ecosystems & Bycatch. IOTC-2023-WPEB19-10, La Saline Les Bains, Reunion, France

The National Plan of Action for Sharks South Africa II was finalised in 2022 and serves as a pivotal strategy for addressing the conservation concerns of the ~100 species of chondrichthyans caught as by-catch and target in South African fisheries. Globally chondrichthyes are experiencing severe population declines attributable to a combination of conservative life-history traits, unmonitored fishing practices, poor data collection, and insufficient management. Despite their ecological significance and contributions to economies through fisheries, trade, and tourism, existing management interventions often fall short in ensuring their sustainability. The NPOA-Sharks South Africa II, aligned with the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, outlines a framework to improve conservation and management efforts in South Africa. Implicit in the NPOA Sharks South Africa II is a list of actions, timeframes, and responsibilities to be completed by the end of the 5-year plan. This prioritization exercise represents an action as required by the NPOA Sharks II, to determine which chondrichthyans in South Africa warrant urgent research. By prioritizing species for research, the plan aims to gather crucial information on the risks associated with shark exploitation and guide effective management within fisheries. The prioritization is done separately for three marine ecosystems roughly separating three fishery systems, namely coastal, demersal, and pelagic. The prioritization emphasises research gaps, while acknowledging challenges in data collection, identification, and observer coverage. Recommendations include resolving species composition issues, updating catch lists, immediate sample collection, and fostering international collaboration for pelagic species. The NPOA-Sharks underscores the complexity of managing chondrichthyan species affected by fisheries and highlights the importance of bridging the gap between scientific research, policy implementation, and international cooperation to secure their future.