Strengthening Angel Shark Conservation in the Northeastern Mediterranean Sea
Angel sharks are among the most threatened species of sharks globally. Twenty-two species have been identified globally so far, with three species being present in the Mediterranean Sea: Squatina aculeata, Squatina oculata, and Squatina squatina. The Mediterranean populations of all three species have been assessed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species due to the steep decline of their populations as a result of their historical and current overexploitation by demersal fisheries. Therefore, currently there is an ongoing increasing effort for advancing the conservation of the species in the basin. Recently, in the context of the Regional Action Plan for Mediterranean Angel Sharks, the Aegean Sea and Crete have been identified as critical areas for all three species. This study provides the first predictive distribution map of the three angel shark species in the basin, while critical areas for the conservation of the species were identified through a systematic spatial conservation planning analysis. Our analysis revealed low overlapping between the existing MPA network and critical areas for the distribution of the species primarily in Greece and then Turkey, while 20% of the critical areas for the distribution of the species overlaps with Fisheries Restricted Areas of the region. This highlights the need for creating MPAs focusing on shark conservation within the Mediterranean that are currently completely absent. In addition, we provide policy recommendations that can secure better protection of angel sharks through the enforcement of the current legislations and the engagement of all relevant stakeholders.