Shark Conservation Gets a Boost
European Commission Pushes to Close Loopholes in Shark Finning Ban
The Shark Alliance welcomed the long-awaited proposal today from the European Commission for closing the loopholes in the European Union's ban on shark finning, the wasteful practice of slicing off a shark's fins and discarding the body at sea.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), every year millions of sharks are finned worldwide. The current EU regulation, adopted in 2003, is too lenient to ensure that finning is not continuing undetected and unpunished. The proposal, if adopted by the European Parliament and Council of Ministers, would ensure that all sharks taken by EU vessels or in EU waters are landed with their fins still naturally attached to their bodies. Marine conservationists and scientists recommended this policy as the most reliable means of enforcing a finning ban.
“The Commission's proposal is a positive step toward the much-needed protection of sharks,” said Sandrine Polti, shark policy adviser to the Pew Environment Group and the Shark Alliance. “The responsibility now lies with the Fisheries Ministers and members of the European Parliament for all 27 EU Member States, who must agree to this proposal as the only reliable way of ensuring that sharks are not finned.”
Shark fins are the key ingredient in a traditional and expensive Asian soup. The EU, particularly Spain, is one of the world's largest suppliers of shark fins to Asia.
The Commission has proposed ending special fishing permits, still granted by some Member States, that allow fishermen to remove shark fins at sea and bring bodies and fins to port separately. Spain has issued the largest number of these permits, enough to cover its entire longline fleet. The country's fishing industry and government are expected to continue to lead the opposition to proposed improvements in the finning ban.
Every October, members of the Shark Alliance in Europe run a week of public activities to promote shark appreciation and call for conservation measures. Last month, as part of the fifth annual “European Shark Week,” tens of thousands of concerned citizens across Europe called on EU Fisheries Ministers to help close loopholes in the finning ban and to fulfill the commitments of the EU Plan of Action for sharks.
The high value of shark fins, in contrast to the typically lower value of shark meat, creates the economic incentive for shark finning. Landing sharks with fins attached not only effectively halts the practice of finning, but it also offers vastly improved information about the species caught. This information is vital for robust population assessment and effective shark management.
Although the current EU finning regulation prohibits the removal of shark fins at sea, a derogation allows EU Member States to provide fishermen with special permits to remove fins on board vessels, provided that the fin-to-body weight ratio of the catch does not exceed 5 percent. This ratio is higher and thereby more lenient than ratios used in other countries. Fishermen with permits are also able to legally land shark fins and bodies in separate ports, a practice that further hampers enforcement. Germany and the United Kingdom recently stopped issuing these permits. Spain and Portugal grant them for most of their shark fishermen, and Cyprus has recently issued one.
The European Commission’s Community Plan of Action for sharks (COM/2009/0040) includes, among other things, a pledge to strengthen the EU finning ban. In their 2009 endorsement of this Plan, the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers urged the Commission to give special attention and priority to the finning issue.
In December 2010, the European Parliament endorsed a Resolution (Written Declaration 0071/2010) calling on the European Commission to deliver a proposal to prohibit the removal of shark fins on-board vessels.
Earlier this year, the European Commission completed a three-month public consultation on options for amending the EU finning regulation, including a ban on at-sea fin removal. Comments reflected strong support for the “fins naturally attached” option from conservationists, scientists, divers, aquarists, and citizens.
The “fins naturally attached” policy has been recommended by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the United Nations and is used in shark fisheries in Central America, Australia, and the United States.
A study published by the IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG) and the European Elasmobranch Association (EEA) in December 2010, “Sharks fins in Europe: Implications for reforming the EU finning ban,” compared the EU’s shark catching, processing, trade, and regulations with those of the rest of the world and made recommendations for improvement, including calling for the prohibition without exception of removal of shark fins on board vessels.
The Shark Alliance is a coalition of more than 100 conservation, scientific, and recreational organisations dedicated to restoring and conserving shark populations by improving shark conservation policies. The Shark Alliance was initiated and is coordinated by the Pew Environment Group, the conservation arm of The Pew Charitable Trusts, a nongovernment organisation that is working to end overfishing in the world's oceans.
EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki pushes to protect sharks Commission Finning Proposal, 21st November 2012