NOAA 2000-147
Contact: Kate Naughten


As international leaders in the effort to conserve and protect dwindling shark populations, the Departments of Commerce and Interior today jointly announced support for the United Kingdom's recent action to protect basking sharks by monitoring trade of this vulnerable fish.

Through the authority provided by the Appendix III listing of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, commonly known as CITES, the United Kingdom announced that it will be implementing a certification system to ensure basking sharks are legally imported and exported. This action allows the CITES system to begin generating data on international trade in basking sharks since an Appendix III listing requires that exports of this species from the United Kingdom be accompanied by an export certificate. CITES is the only global convention focusing on the regulation of plants and animals in international trade.

"Establishment of sound marine fisheries management practices worldwide for the conservation of sharks is a top priority for the United States," said Penny Dalton, director of the Commerce Department's National Marine Fisheries Service. "We welcome this useful trade-tracking mechanism as an addition to traditional fisheries management."

Basking sharks, which are widely distributed in coastal waters in the northern and southern hemispheres, are notable for their size. They are the second-largest shark in the world, measuring up to 30 feet and weighing five to seven tons. Their biology and migratory behavior make them especially vulnerable to commercial exploitation.

"Time may be running out for sharks, and we must work together to bring the same kind of global fisheries management and protections afforded other vulnerable fish species to these ancient and fascinating fish," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, director of the Interior Department's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "We will be tracking international commerce in this species to help ensure that trade practices worldwide do not adversely impact highly migratory basking shark populations."

Currently, there are no U.S. commercial fisheries that target basking sharks. Since 1997, fishing for and retention of basking sharks has been prohibited by regulation in Atlantic waters. The prohibition was implemented as a precautionary measure to ensure that a directed fishery would not develop. Basking sharks are not regulated in a fisheries management plan in U.S. Pacific waters, but the Pacific Fishery Management Council is considering developing a plan that would address shark management and conservation.

Traditionally, basking sharks have been hunted for their liver, which yields a valuable lubricating oil. That market has been largely replaced by synthetics, but a new market demand for basking shark fins for Asian haute cuisine has increased. Most shark fins enter the Asian markets where their cartilage commands a high price as an ingredient in sharkfin soup. A basking shark fin, one of the most valuable of all shark fins, can weigh over 200 pounds.

While a few countries, including Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and the United States, have specific fishery management plans for certain shark fisheries, there are no international management programs in place currently to protect any species of shark. However, the United States, through the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, led the effort to develop a global plan of action to address shark management and conservation. Currently, each member nation is developing its plan of action and will report back to the Food and Agriculture Organization in February 2001.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for implementing CITES and issuing for shipments containing protected wildlife or products made from them, import and export permits, re-export certificates and CITES certificates of origin. Additional information on CITES or Appendix III trade and permit requirements is available at:

NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, under the U.S. Department of Commerce, is responsible for the day-to-day management of oceanic sharks, including basking sharks. The Fisheries Service also collects data and analyzes population status to determine appropriate management measures that ensure a sustainable population.