The conservation of sharks and rays is one of the global conservation priorities for WCS. In Gabon we are conserving over 60 species of sharks and rays some of which are highly threatened by illegal fishing and Chinese demand for shark fins and manta ray gill rakers. At least 13 species of sharks and rays found here in Gabon are on the IUCN Red List of threatened species. These include a wide range of species such as oceanic white-tipped shark and manta ray. Additionally, the Critically Endangered smalltooth and largetooth sawfishes may be found here, although they are now extinct in most of the rest of the Eastern Atlantic. These fish can reach up to 7 m in length but are very vulnerable to fishing as the toothed rostrum is easily tangled in nets and they have a slow rate of reproduction.
Major threats to sharks are fishing where sharks are often caught as bycatch or are often targeted. Sharks are not highly valued for their meat, but the demand from China for shark fins is encouraging fishing for sharks and resulting in a decline in numbers. WCS is supporting efforts in Gabon and the region to control illegal fishing and international trade in shark fins and manta ray gill rakers. The Convention for the Illegal Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), of which Gabon is a member, added several species of sharks and ray to its list of species whose trade is controlled. These are amongst the highest priority species in Gabon, including whale shark (Rhincodon typus), great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus), oceanic whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus), scalloped harmmerhead (Sphyrna lewini), great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran), sawfish (Pristis sp) and manta rays (Manta spp.). WCS is working closely with the government and other partners to identify trade chains and means to control trade in shark and ray products.
On the ground, we have developed and implemented standardized survey methods to monitor shark trade. This includes working at ports when fishing vessels return with their catch, working with market traders to understand sales and demand and continuing right along the chain of exploitation. We have also trained fisheries observers to work onboard boats. Our work in fisheries reform also includes reviewing permits to ensure that fishers are using legal fishing gear and are fishing in correct locations: this reduces the number of sharks that are caught illegally.