Press Release

Endangered Basking Shark Killed Off Italy


Rome — The Shark Alliance is expressing regret over the death of a basking shark taken in the net of an Italian fishing vessel today.  The harmless, filter-feeding female, nearly five meters in length, was reportedly taken unintentionally off of Sanremo, in western Italy near the border with France.  The basking shark, the world’s second largest fish species, is classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Vulnerable to extinction in the Mediterranean.  Since 2006, it has been illegal for EU vessels to fish, retain or land basking sharks.

“There are so few safeguards for sharks in the Mediterranean. It is critical that all existing rules, particularly those for endangered species, are effective and enforced,” Serena Maso, Shark Alliance coordinator for Italy. “Better education of fishermen, research into ways to avoid basking sharks, and enforcement of no-sale rules are all key to ensuring the recovery of these gentle giants.”

Basking shark livers are valuable for oil which is used in cosmetics and pharmaceutical products. A single, enormous basking shark fin can fetch tens of thousands of euros for use as storefront advertising that a Chinese restaurant sells the delicacy shark fin soup.

In February 2009, the European Commission released its long-awaited Community Plan of Action for Sharks.   Among other things, the Plan includes commitments to educate fishermen and the general public about shark conservation programs and restrictions on shark fishing.   Nevertheless, basking sharks continue to be landed illegally in EU countries, particularly Spain.  The Shark Alliance is pushing for higher priority and prompt implementation of basking shark protections and other safeguards promised in the EU Shark Plan.

Despite the impressive dimensions of the example captured accidentally today in Liguria, this was a young female, which had not yet reached sexual maturity. Basking shark females have long gestation periods and are only able to reproduce after reaching 6-9 metres, characteristics which render the basking shark – like all sharks – particularly vulnerable to overfishing.

“This alarming data confirms the need for prompt intervention through the adoption of measures to manage the species, not only at European and international level but also at national level” continued Serena Maso. “Member States, including Italy, must implement at a national level the measures contained in the Plan and we hope Italy will act immediately and without further delay.”

Basking sharks are listed under the Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and several other conservation treaties.

Media Contact

Charlotte Masiello-Riome

Manager, Communications