New plan to save Angelsharks

Experts have come together to help save the Critically Endangered Angelshark.

The last populations of the iconic Angelshark (Squatina squatina) can now only be seen in the Canary Islands. Once found along the coast of the Northeast Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea (from Scandinavia to northwest Africa), this species is now Critically Endangered (as assessed by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) and has been lost from much of its previous distribution.

Last week, a multi-faceted group of divers, scientists and conservation organisations, the Canary Island Government, National Government, and local and international shark experts came together to identify and address the major threats to Angelshark conservation.

The week-long workshop was organised by the Angel Shark Project, a collaboration between Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig, in association with IUCN Shark Specialist Group and Shark Trust.

It resulted in the development of a comprehensive Conservation Action Plan, which will guide the next ten years of work to safeguard the future for this species in the Canary Islands.

The vision of this plan is that Angelsharks in the Canary Islands are abundant and protected in their unique stronghold.

“We know that at least one-quarter of the world’s sharks and rays are threatened,” Professor Nicholas Dulvy of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group, based at Simon Fraser University, Canada commented, “and angel sharks are one of the most threatened families of marine fishes.”

Photo: Carlos Suarez

Joanna Barker, ZSL Europe Conservation Project Manager, said: “By bringing together experts from across the Canary Island archipelago and Europe, we have been able to identify and address the major threats to Angelshark conservation”

“These islands have a truly diverse fishing community” Ali Hood, Director of Conservation at the Shark Trust noted; adding that “the support of both commercial and recreational fishers will be key to reducing immediate pressures on the Angelshark.”

David Jiménez Alvarado, Project Officer of the Angel Shark Project remarked “It is vital to understand the critical habitats of this majestic and poorly known shark in this unique stronghold, and we encourage all divers to submit sightings to our online database (www.angelsharkproject.com).”

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Photo: Michael Sealey

The angel shark family (Squatinidae) was identified as the second most threatened of all the world’s sharks and rays. By safeguarding a healthy population of the Angelshark in their last remaining stronghold of the Canary Islands, it may one day be possible for this species to be restored to its historic range.

The finalised Angelshark Action Plan for the Canary Islands will be distributed and publically available by the end of the year.

We are hugely grateful to our funders that made this workshop possible: Disney Conservation Fund, Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Fondation Ensemble, BIAZA National Aquarium Conference Fund and EcoAqua.