The European Commission has launched a Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks. The aim is to rebuild shark stocks and to set down guidelines for the sustainable management of the fisheries, including where shark are taken as by-catch. The plan also hopes to increase knowledge of shark stocks and shark fisheries.

European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Joe Borg commented: “Sharks are very vulnerable to over-exploitation and the consequences of depleting their numbers may have very serious consequences not only for sharks but also for marine ecosystems and for fishermen themselves. That is why we have set out a plan of action which will both establish a more precautionary approach to managing fisheries where sharks are caught, and support the substantial research still needed to understand fully the role sharks play in the life of our oceans and the impact which fishing may have on them.”

The Action Plan includes measures to improve data collection and to further reinforce control of the shark finning ban, which came into force in EU waters, and for all EU vessels wherever they fish, in 2003.

The Plan covers all cartilaginous fish – not only sharks, but also skates, rays and chimaeras, which make up over 1,000 species in total. They are found throughout the world, and particularly in the Northern Atlantic Ocean, where more than 50% of shark catches by EU vessels are made. Shark fisheries have grown rapidly since the mid-1980s, driven by an increased demand for shark products (fins in particular). But these species are especially vulnerable to overfishing, since they are long-lived, slow to reach sexual maturity, have long gestation periods and a low fertility rate. A recent study by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature suggests that as many as one-third of the shark species caught in EU waters are currently threatened by excessive fishing pressure. Despite the fragility of these stocks, and their growing importance to the EU fleet, EU shark fisheries have never been managed systematically.

Environmentalist organisations have broadly welcomed the plan. Steven Broad, Director of TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, commented “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”.

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 allocated 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.

“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,” said Dr Susan Lieberman, WWF International’s Species Programme Director.

Shark Alliance Policy Director, Sonja Fordham, said “The release of the long-awaited EU Shark Plan represents a great step forward for the conservation of sharks in European waters and beyond. The Plan’s commitments to science-based fishing limits, endangered species protection, and a stronger finning ban are essential to securing a brighter future for some of Europe’s most vulnerable and neglected animals.”

“The success of the EU Shark Plan depends on prompt, follow-up proposals from the Commission and cooperation from Member States in ensuring improvements are accepted and enforced,” added Fordham. “We urge all EU Fisheries Ministers to actively support timely implementation of the Shark Plan in line with scientific advice and the precautionary approach.”

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.

Further Reading:
European Commission Fisheries

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