These animals are particularly threatened by overfishing, and the researchers found that reported catches of sharks, rays and chimaeras peaked in 2003 (although the scientists noted that actual catches are likely to be greatly under-reported). These catches are mostly unintentional, but there are developing markets for sharks and rays, which are adding stress to the species, IUCN officials said.
In particular, the global market for shark fins, used in shark fin soup, is severely depleting shark species, and even some ray species that have fins, such as guitarfish. These marine animals are also hunted for their meat, which can be made into products such as Chinese tonic, from manta and devil ray gills, or pharmaceuticals, from deep-sea shark livers, IUCN researchers said.
The pressure put on the species from both intentional and unintentional catches is exacerbated by the animals' relatively slow reproduction, with fish taken out of the ocean faster than they can be replaced.
"Sharks, rays and chimaeras tend to grow slowly and produce few young, which leaves them particularly vulnerable to overfishing," Sonja Fordham, deputy chair of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group and president of the Washington, D.C.-based Shark Advocates International, said in a statement.