EU Fisheries Ministers Fail Critically Endangered Sharks

Fishing limits tightened, but France wins fight to continue targeting porbeagles

EU Fisheries Ministers Fail Critically Endangered Sharks

Brussels — The EU Council of Fisheries Ministers today failed to set zero catch limits for economically valuable porbeagle and spurdog sharks, as proposed by the European Commission and scientists. Instead, the Council reduced next year’s total allowable catch (TAC) limits for these two seriously overfished species by just 25% and 50%, respectively, and introduced maximum landing sizes, with apromise to consider additional measures for porbeagle in 2009 and a near-zero spurdog limit in 2010.

"We are outraged that, despite overwhelming public support and scientific evidence of severe population declines, EU Fisheries Ministers have once again failed some of Europe’s most threatened and vulnerable marine fish – spurdog and porbeagle sharks,” said Sonja Fordham, Policy Director for the Shark Alliance.“By refusing to adopt the proposed zero catch limits, the Council has left these critically endangered species at risk for irreparable harm.”

In its influential role as EU President, Franceled the charge to defeat the European Commission’s proposal to set a zero TAC for porbeagle sharks. Franceis home to the EU’s only remaining targeted porbeagle fishery which is driven by European demand for meat and the Asian demand for shark fin soup. The UK, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, Malta and the Netherlands expressed specific support for all of the Commission’s shark and ray proposals before quota negotiations began.

“It is appalling that the short-term economic interests of one country – France – have thwarted the will of most EU Member States to protectEurope’s porbeagles, among the most threatened sharks in the world,” added Fordham. “Allowing catches of porbeagle and spurdog runs counter to clear scientific advice and squanders opportunities put forth by the Commission to overhaul the EU’s poor shark fisheries management record.”

The Council’s press conference offered no word about decisions on Commission proposals to ban the retention of severely depleted angel sharks, common skates, undulate rays and white skates. Some local populations of these species have already been wiped out, due mainly to unintended catch in fisheries for other species.

The Council agreed new EU limits for a mix of other skate and ray species based on recent catches.

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Notes to Editors:

The Shark Alliance is a coalition of 60 conservation, scientific and recreational organizations dedicated to improving European shark fishing policies.

Most sharks and rays can be easily overfished because they grow slowly, mature late and produce few young.

Porbeagle and spurdog sharks are classified by the IUCN as Critically Endangered in the Northeast Atlantic.

The International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which provides scientific advice to the European Commission, recommends a prohibition on landing porbeagle shark. The first EU porbeagle limit was imposed in 2008 at a level too high to safeguard the population (581tons). France and Spain are responsible for the bulk of EU porbeagle catches. The UK, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Portugal and Germany also had porbeagle quotas in 2008.

ICES warns that spurdog (or “spiny dogfish”) are in danger of collapse and recommends zero catch. Spurdog are sold as fish and chips in the UK and as smoked belly flaps in Germany; filets are eaten in other EU countries including Belgium, France, and Italy. Spurdog pregnancies last nearly two years, a record in the animal world.

In early December, the EU secured the listing of porbeagle and spurdog under the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), a treaty that facilitates international cooperation to conserve trans-boundary wildlife. In 2007, EU proposals to list porbeagle and spurdog under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) were defeated based largely on arguments that the EU’s own fishing limits on the species were grossly inadequate.

ICES has recommended that angel shark and white skates receive the "highest possible protection" and has called for an end to fishing for undulate rays and common skates. Common skate, angel sharks and white skates are listed by IUCN as Critically Endangered; undulate rays are classified as Endangered.

In January 2009, the European Commission is expected to release its long awaited Plan of Action for Sharks, first promised in 1999 with the adoption of the United Nations International Plan of Action for Sharks.