Brussels — Conservationists are applauding the European Commission for proposing strong protections for endangered species of sharks and rays, including spiny dogfish, porbeagle, common skate, angel shark, and – for the first time - guitarfishes. Final decisions on these and other proposed European Union (EU) fishing limits will be made by the European Council of Fisheries Ministers on 13 and 14 December.
“We congratulate the European Commission on strong proposals to protect some of the world’s most threatened sharks and rays,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International. “Proposals to set fishing quotas at zero for critically endangered spiny dogfish and porbeagle sharks are in line with scientific advice while the new initiative to protect endangered Atlantic guitarfishes is a groundbreaking step that should be used to promote conservation in other areas, especially the Mediterranean.”
Guitarfishes are warm water rays whose fins are particularly valuable for use in shark fin soup. Two guitarfish species (“common” and blackchin) are found in EU waters from Portugal south, including the Mediterranean; both are classified by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) as Endangered due to overfishing. In the Mediterranean, guitarfish were once common, but are now assumed locally extinct in some regions. The Commission’s proposal applies to official EU fishing areas which do not include the Mediterranean.
The Commission has proposed to cut the spiny dogfish (spurdog) total allowable catch (TAC) to zero, in line with a pledge from the Council last year, and to keep the porbeagle TAC at zero while prohibiting catches from international waters. The European populations of spiny dogfish and porbeagle are the most threatened in the world, classified by the IUCN as Critically Endangered. The Commission proposals would continue EU prohibitions on retaining common skates, angel sharks and white skates (also Critically Endangered) as well as undulate rays (categorized as Endangered).
“The European Commission’s commitment in recent years to the recovery of endangered shark and ray species, although overdue, is encouraging,” said Heike Zidowitz, Vice President of the European Elasmobranch Association, an umbrella organization for leading European shark and ray scientists. “We are hopeful that additional, complementary measures -- to reduce incidental catches of these species and prevent overfishing of targeted sharks -- will promptly follow.”
Shark Advocates International (SAI) is a project of The Ocean Foundation established to provide leadership in advancing sound policies for sharks and rays through collaboration with a variety of organizations and decision makers. Based on nearly 20 years of shark conservation achievement, SAI uses its expertise to secure science-based limits on shark fishing and trade, protection for endangered species, and stronger bans on finning.
The European Elasmobranch Association (EEA) coordinates the activities of all national member organisations dedicated to the study, management or conservation of chondrichthyans (sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras). The EEA's scientific network formulates scientific policy and priorities to advance research, sustainable management, conservation, and education on chondrichthyans throughout Europe.