EU Fisheries Ministers Fall Short on Conservation of Deep Sea Sharks

EU Fisheries Ministers Fall Short on Conservation of Deep Sea Sharks

Yesterday, the European Council of Fisheries Ministers announced their decisions on 2009 and 2010 catch limits for deep sea fishes, including a number of deep sea shark species sought for their meat and rich liver oil.

Once again, the Council strayed from scientists’ advice for zero catches of deep sea sharks, deciding instead to cut “total allowable catches” (TACs) in half for 2009 -- down to 859 tonnes (t) -- and allow 10% of that amount to be taken in 2010 to account for sharks taken incidentally as “bycatch”.

France and the United Kingdom were awarded the largest national deep sea shark quotas for 2009 (totals of 345 and 188t, respectively), followed by Portugal (137t), Spain (110t), Ireland (56t), and Germany (20t). Since 2005, scientists have recommended setting deep sea shark TACs at zero based on the species’ seriously depleted state and inherent vulnerability to overfishing.    

Shark Alliance Policy Director, Sonja Fordham, offered the following statement in response to the decisions:

“We are disappointed that the Council of Ministers has failed to immediately end fishing for exceptionally slow-growing and depleted deep sea sharks – some of the ocean’s most vulnerable animals. The principal shark species taken in deep sea fisheries are classified by the IUCN as in danger of extinction and deserve full, immediate implementation of the 2005 scientific advice for zero allowable catches.

Strict adherence to technical recommendations is essential for avoiding irreparable population collapse and effectively conserving these key components of healthy ocean ecosystems. Instead of excusing bycatch as ‘inevitable,’ fishery managers should be focused on eliminating it through restrictions on fishing depth or area and other modifications.”

Deep sea sharks are fished for their meat as well as the valuable oil from their large livers which is used in cosmetic and pharmaceutical products.  Most species live hundreds of meters down in the ocean. The Portuguese dogfish is one of the deepest dwelling sharks, reported from 3700 meters.  Adaptations to this environment reflected in most deep sea shark species include dark skin and glowing, green eyes.

The European Commission has asserted that the precautionary approach is paramount in these management cases because deep sea species are long-lived and reproduce very late in life.

Notes for Editors:

The Shark Alliance is a coalition of 59 conservation, scientific and recreational organisations dedicated to restoring and conserving shark populations by improving EU fishing policies.

European deep sea sharks include: Portuguese dogfish (Centroscymnus coelolepis), Leafscale gulper shark (Centrophorus squamosus), Birdbeak dogfish (Deania calceus), Kitefin shark (Dalatias licha), Greater lanternshark (Etmopterus princeps), Velvet belly (Etmopterus spinax), Black dogfish (Centroscyllium fabricii), Gulper shark (Centrophorus granulosus), Blackmouth dogfish (Galeus melastomus), Mouse catshark (Galeus murinus), Iceland catshark (Apristuris spp.).  In ICES Area XII, deep sea sharks include Rough longnose dogfish (Deania histricosa) and Arrowhead dogfish (Deania profundorum).

Gulper sharks are classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as Critically Endangered in the Northeast Atlantic. Leafscale gulper sharks and Portuguese dogfish in this region are categorized as Endangered.

The European Commission began reducing catch limits for Europe’s vulnerable deep sea sharks in 2006 with a view to reaching zero catch limits within four years. The Commission decided to gradually phase out the fishery in order to give the fishing industry time to “adjust and refocus“.

For further information and media interviews:

Sophie Hulme, +44 7973 712 869