Shark Sanctuaries

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a major threat to the health of shark and ray populations and other ocean life around the world. Countries are beginning to recognize just how important vibrant shark populations are to healthy ocean ecosystems, and to their ecotourism industries.

A nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) extends 320 km (200 m) from its coastline. Within its EEZ, a country may regulate fisheries and scientific research and develop other economic efforts. In recent years shark sanctuaries were established, implementing policies that ban commercial fishing of sharks and possession of fishing gear used to target them. To date about 6.7 million km2 of ocean is off limits to shark fishing.


December. French Polynesia and the Cook Islands create adjacent shark sanctuaries spanning almost 4 million km2 of ocean in total. French Polynesia — a group of five major archipelagoes with more than 100 islands — designated an area of 2.5 million km2 of sea as shark sanctuary on Dec. 6. The Cook Islands designated its own, which is equal to the size of Mexico at 1.2 million km2, on Dec. 19. More than 20 shark species inhabiting these waters are now protected from overexploitation. Read more


September. Tokelau. A self-administering territory of New Zealand comprised of three atolls in the South Pacific declared its entire EEZ a shark sanctuary (300,000 km2). More than 30 shark species can be found here including species that are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Read more

September. The Marshall Islands government creates the world's largest shark sanctuary at that time, covering nearly 2,000,000 km2. Commercial shark fishing as well as the sale and possession of any shark products is prohibited over an ocean area four times the landmass of California. Sharks that are by-caught by fishing boats must be released and large monetary fines will be charged for all violaters. Fishing boats are prohibited to land sharks at any of the nation’s harbors. Read more

July. Micronesia. An agreement between the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and its four member states Yap, Chuuk, Phonpei, and Kosrae authorizes the development of a regional ban on the possession, sale and trade of shark fins. The agreement includes an area two-thirds of the size of the continental United States (6,500,000 km2) inhabited by about 85 species of sharks and rays. Read more

July. The Bahamas. The Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture of the Bahamas bans all commercial shark fishing in the country’s waters of about 630,000 km2. More than 40 shark species are now protected from overexploitation. Ecotourism related to shark has contributed more than US$800 million to the Bahamian GDP over the last 20 years and thus presents a sustainable alternative to shark fisheries. Read more

June. Honduras creates the first shark sanctuary in America. The measure protects sharks in the 240,000 km2 of the country’s EEZ, an area approximately the size of the United Kingdom. Commercial fishing and finning are now banned off America’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts, which are inhabited by more than 40 different shark species. Read more


March. The Maldives declares its EEZ, 90,000 km2 of the Indian Ocean, as a shark sanctuary free from all shark fishing and finning. The Maldives further bans all imports and exports of shark fins and shark products, protecting more than 30 different species that make their home in the region. “Shark tourism” is a growing sector in the Maldives which contributes largely to the country’s GDP and provides locals with an alternative income, encouraging them to move away from harmful fishing practices. Read more


September. Palau creates the world’s first so-called "shark sanctuary" prohibiting all commercial shark fishing within its EEZ waters. The sanctuary protects 600,000 km2 of ocean, an area about the size of France. President Johnson Toribiong made the announcement during a session of the UN General Assembly and also requested a worldwide ban on shark finning. Palau is home to 135 endangered or vulnerable shark and manta ray species. Read more