About the Shark Alliance
The Shark Alliance was a global, not-for-profit coalition of nongovernmental organizations dedicated to restoring and conserving shark populations by improving shark conservation policies. It was created to secure a Community Plan of Action for the conservation and management of sharks, and a tighter shark finning regulation, in Europe. It achieved both objectives, with the adoption of an EU Shark Plan in 2009 and the closure of all loopholes in the EU shark finning ban in 2013.
The Shark Alliance is no longer being coordinated as an active coalition campaign. If you want to find out more about current efforts for shark conservation, please contact a group in your area.
The story of the EU campaign
The EU is a major shark fishing power with fleets landing more than 100,000 tonnes of sharks and rays annually and is particularly influential in the development of international fisheries policies.
More than a decade ago, in response to growing concern over depletion of the world’s shark populations, governments of the United Nations adopted the Food and Agricultural Organization International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks, and they pledged to produce shark conservation plans for their waters and fishing regions by 2001.
An EU Shark Action Plan
In February 2009, the Shark Alliance won a major victory when the European Commission released the long-awaited European Community Action Plan for the Conservation and Management of Sharks, having publicly consulted on it throughout 2008. The EU Shark Action Plan set forth actions aimed at improving information on shark fisheries, biology and trade, stopping overfishing and preventing finning.
European fisheries ministers endorsed the plan in April 2009, setting the stage for sweeping improvements in EU shark fishing management and protection policies, including:
- Strengthening the EU finning regulation.
- Setting science-based, precautionary catch limits for sharks.
- Providing special protections for Endangered shark species.
- Proposing complementary measures for shark conservation in international waters.
Although the action plan was a significant milestone, it needs to be translated into concrete measures in order to reduce shark mortality.
Catch limits and species protection
Between 2006 and 2013, the Shark Alliance has successfully pushed for the protection of many species of sharks and rays in EU member states and encouraged the adoption of science-based catch limits. For example:
- In 2006, the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers strengthened protection for basking and white sharks and agreed to phase out deep-sea shark fisheries.
- January 2007 saw the first reductions in catch limits for exceptionally vulnerable deep-sea sharks.
- In 2008, the Council of Fisheries Ministers protected angel sharks and three species of skates, and it reduced deep-sea catch limits.
- In 2009, Spain protected all species of hammerhead and thresher sharks.
- Also in 2009, the French targeted fishery for porbeagle sharks was closed.
- In 2010, the council set the deep-sea shark catch limit at zero from 2012, adding four species to the closure. It also reduced quotas for skates and rays, protected Atlantic guitarfish and limited longline fishing for tope.
The EU is gradually protecting threatened shark and rays species, but these regulations came late and do not cover the full ranges of threatened species; much EU shark fishing remains unregulated.
International shark conservation
The EU is an active member of the world’s international fisheries and wildlife conservation bodies and can exert a powerful influence. As many sharks migrate over political boundaries and are traded internationally, consistent safeguards throughout species’ ranges are essential to effective conservation.
Through the EU Shark Action Plan, the European Commission and the Council of Ministers committed to promoting shark fishing restrictions at regional fisheries management organizations and to using the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Convention on Migratory Species to control shark fishing and trade and protect vulnerable species.
EU achievements in such international fora include—among others—a fishing reduction for North Atlantic mako and porbeagle sharks at the 2007 International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) meeting, a prohibition to retain bigeye thresher sharks (ICCAT, 2009), and a partial protection of hammerhead sharks (ICCAT, 2010). At the 2010 annual meeting of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, the EU won a vote on a proposal to prohibit retention of thresher sharks.
In 2007, the EU successfully proposed the listing of all but one sawfish species under CITES Appendix I, which effectively bans trade. In 2013, the EU’s proposal for listing porbeagle sharks under CITES Appendix II, aimed at ensuring international trade is legal and sustainable, was accepted with other proposals to list shark and ray species, which the EU supported.
While making significant progress in these areas, the alliance’s primary focus remained the need to close loopholes in the finning ban.
The EU finning regulation
The EU banned finning in 2003, but loopholes in the regulation undermined its effectiveness and set a poor standard for other countries and international policies.
Although the removal of shark fins on board fishing vessels was generally prohibited, the regulation included an exception under which fishermen with special fishing permits could remove shark fins at sea and land them separately from their bodies. Compliance was monitored through a complicated process of measuring and comparing the weights of the fins with the weight of the whole shark, and there was a considerable risk of finning occurring undetected. Permits were issued to fishing vessels from Spain, Portugal, Germany, Lithuania and the U.K. By 2009, Germany and the U.K. had stopped issuing these permits. From 2009 to 2013, approximately 200 fishing vessels from only Spain and Portugal were continuing to remove shark fins at sea.
Requiring that all sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached is the simplest, most reliable and cost-effective means of implementing a finning ban. This strategy also allows for improved species-specific landings data, which are essential for assessing the status of shark populations and improving fisheries management and shark conservation.
In late 2006, the European Parliament urged the European Commission to tighten the EU finning regulation. The European Commission laid out options, and stakeholders debated them in 2007 and 2008 as part of the public consultation on the EU Shark Action Plan.
In February 2009, the European Commission pledged to strengthen the EU finning regulation as part of the EU Shark Action Plan. When endorsing the plan in April 2009, the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers took the opportunity to encourage the commission to prioritise strengthening the shark finning ban.
In September 2010, four members of the European Parliament (MEPs), with the support of the Shark Alliance, launched a written declaration calling on the European Commission to deliver a proposal to prohibit the removal of shark fins on board vessels. Signed by a majority of MEPs, the declaration was endorsed as a resolution of the EU Parliament in December 2010.
Meanwhile, in November 2010, the European Commission initiated a public consultation on options for amending the EU finning regulation, including a complete ban on at-sea fin removal.
After extensive consultation, the commission released its proposal in November 2011 to amend the regulation so that all sharks caught in EU waters or by EU boats had to be landed with their fins naturally attached. To enter into force, the proposal had to be accepted by the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers and the European Parliament.
Ministers gave their support to the approach in March 2012, with only Spain and Portugal opposing. Deliberations in the European Parliament were lengthy, and at times confused, with several MEPs fighting hard to maintain loopholes.
Finally, after years of debate, the European Parliament voted in November 2012 to close loopholes in the EU finning regulation. Some 566 MEPs voted in favour of a report endorsing the European Commission’s proposal to require that fins be left naturally attached to all sharks that are brought to port. In June 2013, the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers concluded the adoption of the strengthened regulation.
There is still work to be done
The adoption of the EU Shark Plan and strengthened finning ban represents significant milestones for the protection of sharks in Europe, and globally through the EU’s influence in international fora.
Of course, this is not the end of the battle for shark conservation in the EU or throughout the world. With much shark fishing unregulated, there remains the need for further protection for endangered species, fishing limits in line with scientific advice and the precautionary approach, and additional steps taken globally toward the implementation of the International Plan of Action for Sharks.
The member groups involved in the Shark Alliance continue working to secure other safeguards needed to address the overexploitation of sharks in the EU and around the world.
To find a group in your area, go to About the Shark Alliance/Members.