It could double for a great white in a James Bond movie. It can breach fully out of the water — a behavior unique to only a few shark species — and it can regulate its body temperature in relation to the surrounding water. But you won’t see the porbeagle (Lamna nasus) cruising along a coral reef — in fact, you’re more likely to encounter this remarkable-looking shark on a restaurant menu, disguised as some other fish. Although this stout, torpedo-shaped shark is among the world’s fastest, it can’t outswim its most dangerous predator: humans.
The principal threat to the porbeagle population worldwide is overfishing, in both target fisheries and as bycatch, which have depleted the world’s largest North Atlantic stocks over the course of 50 years. It’s one of the most commercially valuable shark species, with both meat and fins being highly prized. Europe drives the demand for its meat, but the U.S. and Japan also import the porbeagle. The remainder of the shark is made into leather, liver oil or fishmeal. As with many sharks, fins are mostly shipped to Asia to be consumed as shark-fin soup. International trade in porbeagle appears to be significant, even though it’s impossible to quantify because shark products are rarely — if ever — reported at the species level, and many are a mix of various species.
At present, there is no regulation of the international trade in porbeagle, but in March 2013 member countries to Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species will meet to discuss extending trade controls to sharks. Past attempts to list porbeagle under CITES have failed as the opposition driven by commercial interests continues to win over conservation. Promisingly, in March, Germany submitted a draft proposal to list porbeagle.
We at the Project AWARE Foundation are hopeful and working in the trenches with our partners, not only to protect the porbeagle, but also to secure CITES protections for other shark species as well.