Some of the world’s most iconic sharks and rays (Elasmobranchs) are found in Gabon’s oceanic waters. These include whale sharks, tiger sharks and manta rays. Over 60 species of elasmobranches have been identified here and at least 10 species are listed on the IUCN red-list as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable. The conservation of sharks and rays is therefore a high priority for Gabon and for WCS, especially given that global densities have undergone catastrophic declines in the last ten years.
Gabon has some of the most pristine coastline in the world; vast stretches of coastline enjoy minimal human presence or impact. However, Gabon’s marine and coastal species and habitats are under increasing threat from industrial and artisanal fisheries, oil exploration and coastal development. There has been recent rapid growth in trade in shark fins and other products fuelled by increasing trade links with China and that country’s growing prosperity. Additionally, increasing intensity of fisheries has resulted in by-catch becoming a serious threat to sharks.
To mitigate these threats to sharks and rays WCS is supporting the government’s marine initiative Gabon Bleu to reform the national fishing industry. This focuses on ensuring sustainability of both artisanal and industrial fisheries. WCS is training fisheries observers to be placed on trawlers to monitor activity and help reduce illegal by-catch. We are supporting efforts to legalise and improve oversight of artisanal fishing, this includes visiting landing sites to work with artisanal fisheries to monitor catches. Additionally, we are helping Gabon Bleu with marine spatial planning and preparing management plans for fisheries.