Extinction risk, reconstructed catches, and management of chondrichthyan fishes in the Western Central Atlantic Ocean
Chondrichthyan fishes are among the most threatened vertebrates on the planet because many species have slow life histories that are outpaced by intense fishing. The Western Central Atlantic Ocean, which includes the greater Caribbean, is a hotspot of chondrichthyan biodiversity and abundance, but is historically characterized by extensive shark and ray fisheries and a lack of sufficient data for effective management and conservation. To inform future research and management decisions, we analyzed patterns in chondrichthyan extinction risk, reconstructed catches, and regulations in this region. We summarized the extinction risk of 180 sharks, rays, and chimaeras using contemporary IUCN Red List assessments and found that over one-third (35.6%) were assessed as Vulnerable, Endangered, or Critically Endangered largely due to fishing. Reconstructed catches from 1950 to 2016 reached their peak in 1992, then declined by 40.2% through the end of the series. The United States, Venezuela, and Mexico were responsible for most catches and hosted large proportions of the regional distributions of threatened species; these countries therefore held the greatest responsibility for chondrichthyan management. The abundance and resolution of fisheries landings data were poor in much of the region, and national-level regulations varied widely across jurisdictions. Deepwater fisheries represent an emerging threat, although many deepwater chondrichthyans currently find refuge beyond the depths of most fisheries. Regional collaboration as well as effective and enforceable management informed by more complete fisheries data, particularly from small-scale fisheries, are required to protect and recover threatened species and ensure sustainable fisheries.