The Shark Alliance is expressing deep dissatisfaction with 2008 proposed total allowable catch (TAC) limits for sharks tabled by the European Commission that greatly exceed the scientific advice and are therefore too high to safeguard populations from collapse. The final limits will be set by the European Union (EU) Council of Fisheries and Agriculture Ministers, December 17-20.
The International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has documented serious, long-term overfishing of European spurdog and porbeagle shark populations and has repeatedly recommended no fishing of these species and minimization of incidental ‘bycatch.” Last week, the Commission instead proposed a modest 25% reduction in current spurdog TACs and establishment of an initial although barely restrictive limit on porbeagles, at 422 metric tons (t).
“Whereas we welcome reduction in spurdog landings and remain hopeful that porbeagle fishing will at last soon be limited, such small steps are not sufficient to stem the alarming declines in these exceptionally vulnerable shark populations,” remarked Sonja Fordham, Shark Alliance Policy Director. “Slow growing sharks generally warrant a precautionary management approach, but these critically endangered species deserve the strongest protections from continued overfishing.”
Both spurdog and porbeagle are sought for their meat, which is particularly valuable in Europe; fins are also sent to Asia for use in “shark fin soup.” Landings of spurdog in the North Sea have been limited to bycatch at 5% of total catches; the Commission is proposing similar restrictions for other regions without specifying a percentage limit. Whereas spurdog bycatch quotas should be zero, at the very least, spurdog bycatches should be held to no more than 5% of total catches throughout EU waters.
Porbeagle sharks continue to be targeted off France, retained by Spanish fleets, and taken sporadically in large numbers off the U.K. In the Commission’s proposal, France would receive the bulk of the porbeagle TAC (262t), a level on par with their landings in recent years.
“Scientists have recommended an end to targeted porbeagle fishing and one EU spurdog TAC set at zero. The catch limits proposed by the Commission are much closer to recent landings than to zero and therefore may not even restrict current fishing on these beleaguered shark species,” added Fordham. “It is now up the Council of Ministers to reduce the 2008 catch limits to better reflect the scientific advice and offer hope for recovery of these long-neglected sharks.”
Spurdog and porbeagle sharks are considered Critically Endangered off Europe by the IUCN. In June 2007, EU proposals to list both spurdog and porbeagle under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) failed largely because of inadequate protections for these species in EU waters. Last month, member countries of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) (except Canada) agreed to take measures to reduce fishing mortality of porbeagle sharks, but stopped short of considering concrete protections.
The Commission has also recommended a 25% reduction in the North Sea TAC for skates and rays (close relatives of sharks), from 2,190t to 1,643t, but this amount is still well above what fishermen are landing and fisheries for these species in adjacent waters remain largely unregulated. Precise and effective conservation of skates and rays (and most European sharks) is hampered by the lack of species-specific information and associated scientific advice. Still, the skate and ray TAC should be reduced to well below recent landings to ensure fishing is restricted and populations can recover.
The TACs proposed by the Commission cover only a few of the scores of European shark and ray species taken in fisheries. Broader shark and ray conservation initiatives and improvements to existing measures should be outlined in a European Community Plan of Action (CPOA) for Sharks, first promised in 1999. The Shark Alliance is eagerly awaiting the Commission’s stakeholder consultation paper regarding the CPOA, expected later this week.