Press Release

Europe's most endangered sharks slated for protection

Commission releases bold proposals to end all fishing for spiny dogfish, porbeagle and angel sharks, expand protections for rays

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The Shark Alliance is applauding the European Commission's proposals, released today, to end fishing in 2009 for six shark and ray species classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Threatened with extinction in the Northeast Atlantic.

The Commission has proposed setting total allowable catch (TAC) for spiny dogfish (or "spurdog") and porbeagle sharks at zero and prohibiting fishermen from keeping angel sharks, common skates, undulate rays or white skates.

The Commission has also proposed additional improvements to the management of fisheries for skates and rays. The European Council of Ministers will make final decisions on EU 2009 fishing limits December 17-19.

"We are impressed with the Commission's strong stance and unprecedented adherence to the scientific advice with respect to fishing limits for several of Europe's most endangered sharks and rays," said Sonja Fordham, Shark Alliance Policy Director. "These proposals demonstrate the most solid step to date toward a new, more responsible era in the management of European shark fisheries."

The International Council for Exploration of the Seas (ICES), which provides scientific advice to the Commission, has long warned of spiny dogfish population collapse and recommended zero take of the species. Spiny dogfish are sold as fish and chips in the UK and as smoked belly flaps in Germany; filets are eaten in other EU countries including Belgium, France, and Italy. Female spiny dogfish remain pregnant for nearly two years, a record in the animal kingdom. Fisheries often target aggregations of pregnant females as they grow larger and fetch higher prices than males. The UK received the greatest share of 2008 EU spiny dogfish quotas which totaled 2,585 tonnes (t) and are meant to allow for incidental catches only. Spiny dogfish are categorized by IUCN as Critically Endangered in the Northeast Atlantic.

EU fishing for the large and highly migratory porbeagle shark was not limited until 2008 and current quotas (581t total) are too high to rebuild the population. France and Spain are responsible for the bulk of EU porbeagle catches, which are driven by European demand for meat and Asian demand for shark fin soup. The UK, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Portugal and Germany also have porbeagle quota shares. ICES scientists have repeatedly recommended that fishing for European porbeagles should not be allowed, but just weeks ago strengthened that advice by calling for a prohibition on porbeagle landings. Porbeagle sharks are classified by IUCN as Critically Endangered in the Northeast Atlantic.

Earlier this year, ICES warned of severe depletion and local extinction of the bottom-dwelling angel shark and white skates and recommended that these species receive the "highest possible protection". ICES also called for an end to fishing for undulate rays and common skates. Common skate, angel sharks and white skates are listed by IUCN as Critically Endangered; undulate rays are classified as Endangered.

"The future of Europe's most endangered sharks and rays now lies with the European Council of Ministers," added Fordham. "We urge each and every EU Fisheries Minister to follow the Commission's responsible lead and support proposals to eliminate catches of these beleaguered species and at last set them on the path to recovery."

The European Commission has also proposed to reduce by 25% the existing skate and ray quota and establish two new TAC limits for these species in areas where their catch is currently unregulated.

Notes to Editors

The Shark Alliance is a coalition of 58 conservation, scientific and recreational organizations dedicated to improving European policies with respect to sharks.

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.

The IUCN Shark Specialist Group's Red List report on the conservation status of all 116 Northeast Atlantic sharks, rays and chimaeras was released on Monday, November 10.

ICES, the International Council for Exploration of the Sea, coordinates and promotes marine research in the North Atlantic and formulates fisheries management advice for this region that is considered by the European Commission and EU Member States.

The EU has proposed listing both spiny dogfish and porbeagle sharks under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). In unsuccessful arguments for CITES action in 2007, the EU pledged to do a better job of conserving spurdog and porbeagle in EU waters. The Parties to CMS will meet to decide new listings in early December.

"The future of Europe's most endangered sharks and rays now lies with the European Council of Ministers," added Fordham. "We urge each and every EU Fisheries Minister to follow the Commission's responsible lead and support proposals to eliminate catches of these beleaguered species and at last set them on the path to recovery."

The European Commission has also proposed to reduce by 25% the existing skate and ray quota and establish two new TAC limits for these species in areas where their catch is currently unregulated.

Contact

Sophie Hulme, +44 (0) 7973 712 869
email: sophie@communicationsinc.co.uk

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Mike Walker

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