EU acts to protect endangered sharks

Posted: 5 February 2009

The European Commission today announced a new Action Plan to protect sharks in European waters. It includes provisions for more observers of trawlers, prohibitions on discarding most sharks as by-catch, a tighter prohibition on shark finning and catch limits for sharks in line with advice from fisheries management organizations.

The plan has been broadly welcomed by WWF and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. However, they say it needs to be acted on rapidly, and strenghthened in various ways.

Angelsharks
Angelsharks
Angel sharks (Squatina squatina) have almost vanished from European seas. Photo © Simon Rogerson/IUCN
This applied, for example, to the mandatory recording of catch data, if it is to be effective in arresting a rapid decline in shark populations in European waters where roughly one third of the shark species are already threatened with extinction, according to the International Conservation Union(IUCN).

"The commitment to shark conservation is to be commended, although TRAFFIC and WWF are deeply concerned that some of the measures will not be implemented for considerable periods," said Steven Broad, Director of TRAFFIC.

Although the Plan calls for countries to collect information on sharks caught, this will be on a voluntary basis.

TRAFFIC and WWF also called on the EU to allocate adequate resources to ensure the Plan could be properly implemented, and for the Council and the European Parliament to adopt the plan without diluting the proposed measures or extending the period of implementation.

Major gaps

"Although we fully support the adoption and speedy implementation of the plan, we believe it contains major gaps that do not take a sufficiently precautionary approach to shark conservation, as recommended by the United Nations and others," said Dr Susan Lieberman, WWF International's Species Programme Director.

"Many of these species are already threatened with extinction. WWF and TRAFFIC are dismayed that the plan lacks a solid commitment to seek mandatory collection of data on shark catch - a critical element if the EU is to succeed in the conservation of these species," Dr Lieberman added.

Sharks are targeted by UK, French, Spanish and Portuguese fishermen; shark tails and meat are used to prepare "caldeirada" or "Schillerlocken" and shark meat is served in restaurants across Europe, and in the UK in traditional fish-and-chip shops.

In December 2008, European Fisheries ministers agreed to reduce total allowable quotas and committed to a zero catch for certain deep water sharks by 2010.

However, the environmental agencies believe that the acceptable bycatch in these regulations is still too high, and although shark finning has already been prohibited in EU and adjacent waters, control and enforcement of this ban is too lax.

"Sharks are slow growing and produce relatively small numbers of young," said Aaron McLoughlin, Head of WWF's European Marine Programme.

Source: WWF International