Analysis

UK Fisheries Minister explains why he is championing ‘fins attached'

The UK is a strong supporter for closing the loopholes in the EU ban on shark ‘finning’. Earlier this year, the UK Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon, received the petition and photos from European Shark Week. He has published an article explaining why he supports a policy of ‘fins attached’ and stronger conservationand management measures.

arrowThe Shark Alliance welcomes his commitment and our response to his article can be found here

Edited versions of these articles were published in Fishing News and Fishing News International May issue pg 8-9, 18th April 2012.

Shark finning: Time to bring it to an end

by UK Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon

The EU is tightening up legislation that will finally call time on shark finning practices by EU fleets. I strongly support this move. This follows action we have already taken in the UK and is an important step towards improving international shark conservation and management.

Sharks are remarkable creatures – they have roamed our seas for more than 400 million years, and as apex predators they fulfil a key role in regulating and maintaining the balance of marine ecosystems – but they face a number of growing pressures. As well as threats from habitat destruction and climate change, the biggest threats to global shark populations come from unsustainable or poorly regulated fisheries. The life history characteristics of most sharks are slow growth, late maturity and small number of young. This makes them particularly vulnerable to overfishing and slow to recover once depleted.

Astop predators depletion or removal of their populations is likely to have a range of unpredictable effects on marine ecosystems and fish populations. It is not only targeted fishing but also bycatch, the incidental capture of non-target species, that poses a serious problem for shark species.

The European Union (EU) has a significant shark fishing fleet but, alarmingly, roughly one third of European shark populations are classified as threatened under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Another 20% are at risk of becoming threatened in the near future, and we have insufficient data to assess the status of the rest. People may be surprised that the UK has an interest in sharks, but fifty percent of UK shark species are listed as threatened and some of our species have reportedly declined by more than ninety percent. It is for these reasons that the UK wants to see improved conservation and management measures for sharks. Shark fishing must be sustainable and sufficient protection must be in place for endangered species.

The EU has made significant progress and the UK is proud to have played a role in this along with several other fishing nations. There are mechanisms in place that can be used to ensure the better management of sharks at both a European and international level. These include the EU Shark Action Plan, Regional Fisheries Management Organisations and the setting of catch limits to ensure sustainable fishing – but more action is urgently needed. Sharks do not recognise lines on maps, so collective action by governments -- working cooperatively and transparently with the fishing industry, scientists and conservationists -- is the best means of achieving the overarching aim of well-managed, sustainable shark populations.

In particular, the is actively supporting the move by the European Commission to tighten the 2003 Regulation banning shark “finning” (slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea). The proposal would completely end the removal of shark fins on-board fishing vessels, doing away with current derogations in the regulation that complicate enforcement and can potentially enable finning. Keeping the fins on the sharks also allows accurate collection of catch information by species, which is essential to population assessment and fisheries management. The UK has been successfully enforcing this best practice for sharks since 2009 and urges all Member States to adopt the Commission’s proposals.

As well as closing the loopholes in the EU shark finning regulation, it is essential that we ensure shark fisheries are sustainably managed. This means basing management on sound science, acting long before populations collapse and providing special protection for endangered shark and ray species at national, EU and international levels.

The UK Government recognises the high level of public interest in sharks across Europe. In the UK more than 60,000 signatures were received through petitions during the Shark Alliance’s European Shark Week last October. I’d like to thank the UK-based Shark Trust for their continued success in highlighting the plight of shark populations in the UK and around the world. I am committed to championing the need for greater action to rebuild and sustain shark populations to support healthy fisheries, tourism, and ecosystems. Let us all change the fate of shark populations while we still have the chance.

arrowRead the Shark Alliance response