Trends of fish and elasmobranch landings in Italy: associated management implications
Elasmobranchs are extremely vulnerable to overexploitation, owing to their specific biology and life-history characteristics. However, European-managed shark fisheries have historically received less attention than fisheries targeting more commercially important fish species. We analysed and compared the national data of elasmobranch and fish landings in Italy between 1959 and 2004 to examine changes in fishery interest and the exploitation of elasmobranchs over time. Rays (Raja spp.) and smooth-hounds (Mustelus spp.) are the only elasmobranch categories present in the data, but also other similar species could have been mistakenly counted within these groups. Elasmobranch landings were steady until the beginning of the 1970s, peaked in the 1990s, then sharply declined. The mean annual landing for elasmobranchs between 1997 and 2004 decreased 77% compared with the previous years (1959–1982). This decrease may be attributed to overharvesting that occurred during the 1980s and 1990s in Italian seas. This was likely a direct consequence of the 41/82-law, which was developed to manage fish and not elasmobranchs. A direct effect of the 41/82-law was the establishment of an unreported and unregulated elasmobranch fishery since 1983 that lasted almost 10 years. We suggest that the conservation status of elasmobranch species in the Mediterranean and Black Seas be reconsidered.