In 1999, more than 100 governments adopted a plan of action at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization to try to stem overfishing of sharks, pledging, among other things, to develop national action plans to ensure that shark catches are sustainable.
The non-governmental groups Traffic and the Pew Environment Group said Thursday that only 13 of the top 20 shark catching countries had developed national plans, and that it was unclear if such plans had done any good where they were adopted.
They issued their report ahead of a meeting next week of government members of the FAO's fisheries committee, which will discuss the state of the world's fisheries in detail.
Some 73 million sharks are killed annually, primarily to meet the high demand in Asia for fins which are used in shark fin soup.
Because sharks are slow growing, late to mature and produce few young, they are unable to replenish their populations as quickly when they are caught. As a result, some 30 percent of all shark species are now threatened or nearly threatened with extinction.
Traffic and Pew analyzed fisheries data and made a list of the top 20 shark catchers which account for nearly 80 percent of the total shark catch reported globally. In order, the top 10 are:
• United States
Yet according to the two groups, Indonesia has only made a draft national plan and India is developing one. Other countries have adopted them but, because reporting is voluntary, it's not clear if they've been implemented or have done any good.
The groups urged governments at the FAO meeting next week to have the U.N. agency complete a thorough review to determine what countries have and haven't done to comply with their pledges to manage their fisheries.
"The fate of the world's sharks is in the hands of the top 20 shark catchers, most of whom have failed to demonstrate what, if anything, they are doing to save these imperiled species," said Glenn Sant, Traffic's global marine program leader.
Jill Hepp, manager of shark conservation for Pew, said sharks play a critical role in the ocean environment.
"Where shark populations are healthy, marine life thrives; but where they have been overfished, ecosystems fall out of balance," she said.
The report suggests that national action plans with lofty goals that are never implemented might not be the answer to saving sharks. Rather, countries that take smaller, incremental steps toward conservation might achieve better results.
It noted that Palau had announced in 2009 it would create the world's first shark sanctuary by banning all commercial shark fishing in its territorial waters and that Honduras had announced a moratorium on shark fishing last year.