Brest, France — The Shark Alliance welcomes today's decision by the OSPAR Commission for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Northeast Atlantic to add six species of sharks to their list of Threatened and Declining Species and Habitats. OSPAR (the Oslo-Paris Convention) provides a mechanism for international cooperation to protect the Northeast Atlantic marine environment and pursue the measures needed to end overfishing of regionally threatened species.
"The Northeast Atlantic is home to some of the world's most endangered sharks. We appreciate that OSPAR has acknowledged this dire situation and is eager to see it addressed," said Sonja Fordham, Policy Director for the Shark Alliance. "Listing by OSPAR will help greatly to highlight the plight of these sharks and can serve as a springboard for international cooperation on a wide range of urgently needed conservation actions."
The OSPAR Commission is made up of government representatives of 15 Contracting Parties and the European Commission. Germany made the proposals that led to listing of the following Northeast Atlantic species, several of which were also proposed by the World Wildlife Fund:
Spurdog, porbeagle, gulper and angel sharks are classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Critically Endangered in the Northeast Atlantic. Leafscale gulper sharks and Portuguese dogfish in this region are categorized as Endangered.
The European Union (EU) has established allowable catch limits and national quotas for Northeast Atlantic spurdog, porbeagle and deepwater sharks (primarily gulper sharks and Portuguese dogfish), but these limits are too high to allow for population recovery. In fact, scientists have advised that these severely depleted species should no longer be fished. There are no EU safeguards for angel sharks; the species was recently protected off the English coast. The European Commission issued its approach to 2009 catch limits this week and will propose actual limits later in the year. The Commission is also in the process of developing a long-awaited EU Plan of Action for the conservation of sharks.
"Many of the protective measures needed to reverse declines of these vulnerable sharks have already been identified and are within our reach," added Fordham. "We urge OSPAR member nations to use the new listing decisions to promote proposals for significant reductions in European shark quotas over the coming months and ensure a strong EU Plan of Action for Sharks by the end of the year."
The Shark Alliance is a coalition of 51 non-governmental organizations dedicated to improving EU shark conservation policies.
Most sharks (and closely related rays) grow slowly, mature late and produce few young; these characteristics make the especially vulnerable to overfishing and slow to recover once depleted.
Prior to this week's decisions, OSPAR had identified thirteen species of fish, four species of marine mammals, two species of marine reptiles, five species of seabirds and five species of marine molluscs that are threatened and/or declining in one or more of its sub-regions. Previously listed fish include one species of shark and two species of closely related rays are already listed by OSPAR: basking shark Cetorhinus maximus, common skate Dipturus batis and spotted ray Raja montagui.
The scientific names of the newly listed species are as follows: porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus), spurdog shark (Squalus acanthias), gulper shark (Centrophorus granulosus), leafscale gulper shark (Centrophorus squamosus), Portuguese dogfish shark (Centroscymnus coelolepis), angel shark (Squatina squatina).
The OSPAR listings establish these species as high priority for future work. Contracting Parties are urged to take the need to protect listed species into account in their management decisions and are required to report back on progress. OSPAR will develop products to raise awareness about the need to protect these species, identify appropriate management actions, and bring these needs to the attention of relevant national and international authorities.
Species considered for listing as Threatened and Declining Species and Habitats by OSPAR are evaluated using six criteria: Global importance, Regional importance, Keystone species, Rarity, Decline and Sensitivity.
In 2000, OSPAR identified the environmental impact of fisheries as one of the two most important issues for the future of the marine environment.
The OSPAR Commission is made up of representatives from the European Community and the governments of Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.