Conservationists are warning that the sea’s top predators are now at risk of disappearing from the Mediterranean, due to overfishing and plastic pollution that choke and kill hundreds of endangered sharks.

“Sharks are at risk of disappearing from the Mediterranean,” said Giuseppe Di Carlo, director of the WWF’s Mediterranean Marine Initiative. “Their rapid decline is the most serious signal of the status of our sea and of irresponsible fishing practices.

More than half of shark and ray species were under threat, now, almost a third of them have been “fished to the brink of extinction,” according to World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The report singled out Libya and Tunisia as the worst culprits after each country’s fishery hauling in about 4,200 tonnes of sharks a year, is actually three times that of Italy, the next biggest Mediterranean fisher.

WWF reported more than 60 shark species had died due to entanglement in fishing nets across the Mediterranean, while some were specifically targeted for food. Plastic pollution has also been a big factor in endangering the shark population.

Sharks, which have been the top predators for more than 400 million years, have been constantly vulnerable to population decline, because of their slow maturation and long gestation periods.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of endangered species found 79 endangered sharks and 120 endangered ray species. WWF added that lack of international cooperation and regulation makes it impossible to monitor shark conservation efforts.

“All Mediterranean countries are responsible for this. Sharks have been part of our sea and culture for thousands of years, we need to act quickly to ensure they remain in the future,” Di Carlo added.

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