Thousands demand action to strengthen EU shark finning ban

Borg and EU Commission consider shark protection package

L-R: Commissioner Borg, Doretta Corbey, Monique vd Water (CRC) and Irene Kingma © CRC

Strasbourg: Shark Alliance member Coral Reef Care presented EU Commissioner Joe Borg with a petition signed by over 3000 Dutch divers demanding that the EU’s 2003 Shark Regulation that bans shark finning is strengthened.

At the meeting with Coral Reef Care’s Irene Kingma and Monique vd Water, held earlier this month, EU Commissioner Joe Borg and Dutch Member of Parliament Dorette Corbey (PvdA), discussed the upcoming review of the 2003 Shark Finning Regulation, and revealed that the European Commission is currently considering possible measures to strengthen shark protection.

In 2003, the EU adopted a ban on shark finning but at the same time allowed glaring loopholes that render the ban all but meaningless.

Shark fisheries have been a sensitive issue within the EU because of the commercial interest of some countries – Europe, headed by Spain, plays a major role in the global catch, export and import of sharks, in both home and distant waters. Corbey, a member of the European Parliament’s fisheries and agriculture council, felt that Member States are now ready for more drastic measures and not the ‘half-hearted’ ones that have dominated EU fisheries management until now.

The Shark Finning Regulation will be evaluated in early 2008. According to Borg, such a review cannot be conducted sooner, due to the lack of knowledge about shark populations and the effect of the current fining regulation. Only when it is proven that current regulation is not meeting its goals, will new measures will be put in place.

Yet one-third of European shark populations assessed are now considered Threatened under the World Conservation Union  (IUCN) Red List criteria. Another 20 per cent are at immediate risk of becoming so. In February 2007, more oceanic or “pelagic” sharks were added to the Red List of Threatened species. European populations of Spiny Dogfish and Porbeagle sharks are considered Critically Endangered and Germany has proposed these species for listing on Appendix II under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), to be considered in June. But the EU recently failed to set any catch limit or management plan for the Porbeagle shark, although it agreed to the proposal to list it on CITES Appendix II.

In preparation for the review, the EU Commission has started gathering scientific knowledge on shark populations. This research is carried out in part by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), in part by recommended scientists from all Member States. The outcome of this research and analysis is expected at the end of 2007.

The EU Commission is apparently already working on a package to protect sharks. Measures being considered include:

  • Making it compulsory to use the carcasses, instead of dumping them after the fins have been cut off.
  • A complete ban on shark finning, although this is likely to be strongly opposed by Spain and Portugal.
  • Lowering of the fin-to-carcass ratio for certain species.

Apart from possible new or updated EU regulations, Commissioner Borg mentioned that the European Commission wants to take the lead in proposing new provisions to improve shark protection globally at international platforms such as the United Nations and Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs). At the most recent UN COFI meeting (March 2007) the EU committed itself to adopting a European Plan of Action for sharks. (1)

However, Kingma emphasised the need for the EU to first improve its own shark protection provisions. “With its finning regulations more lenient than those of the US and Canada, the EU is currently acting as the ‘lowest common denominator’ at several RFMOs and weakening the international standards established there,” she said.

“Currently the EU is setting a poor example to other nations that may look to it for guidance on the regulation of shark finning,” said Kingma.


(1) In 1999, the UN FAO adopted the IPOA-Sharks with the aim of ensuring the conservation, management, and long-term sustainable use of the species. It calls on fishing nations to develop national plans of action (NPOAs).

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