With many UK shark species threatened with extinction in the wild the launch this year of the Community Plan of Action for Sharks couldn’t come too soon. Working with senior UK government officials the Shark Trust has secured cross-party support for the plan, which places the UK in a strong position in Europe as potential champions of shark conservation. Launched in early February the Community Plan of Action for Sharks (CPOA) comes nearly ten years after the governments of the United Nations pledged to produce shark conservation plans for their waters.The Shark Trust has played a key role in securing the delivery of this plan, working both within the UK and in Europe as a founder member of the Shark Alliance.
At the launch of the CPOA the European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Joe Borg positively endorsed it, saying: “Sharks are very vulnerable to overexploitation and the consequences of depleting their numbers may have very serious consequences not only for sharks but also for marine ecosystems and for fishermen themselves.”
Following the launch the UK Minister for Europe, Caroline Flint, commented: "This is a perfect example of where efforts at the national level simply aren't enough. Our seas don't respect boundaries and that's why the UK has been pushing hard for action at the European level. Far from their traditional image, the numerous shark species in EU waters are, in fact, far more threatened than a threat."
The CPOA covers all cartilaginous fish – not only sharks, but also skates, rays and chimaera and it has the potential to provide a comprehensive framework for change, encouraging science based catch limits, the protection of endangered species and the revision of the EU shark finning regulation. Following the results of the consultation exercise in early 2008 the Commission has adopted five fields of action to enable: improved collection of species-specific data on shark catches and trade; assessment and mitigation of threats; stakeholder consultation and awareness; sustainable shark fisheries; and a revision of the shark finning ban.
The UK is a shark fishing nation and although some progress has been made towards improved fisheries management and protection of vulnerable species, the CPOA should assist in achieving science-based fisheries management and the implementation of necessary conservation initiatives.
The Shark Trust welcomed the plan with Ali Hood, Director of Conservation, stating: “A coherent approach to shark conservation and management is long overdue and the Community Plan of Action for Sharks represents a framework for positive action, what we urgently need now is strong commitment from Member States to deliver on the promise it contains.”
Throughout the development of the CPOA the Shark Trust has advocated for strong UK support. Meeting recently with the UK Fisheries Minister Mr Huw Irranca-Davies, the Shark Trust, accompanied by Shark Alliance colleagues Project AWARE, presented the Minister with petitions collected during European Shark Week 2008. Over 100,000 European Citizens voiced their support for the Plan of Action for Sharks with nearly 20,000 of those from the UK.
Suzanne Pleydell, Director of Project AWARE International said: “The public’s support for European Shark Week sends a clear message to the Governments of Europe: sharks are a crucial element of our marine environment and need appropriate management and protection as a matter of urgency.”
The Minister reiterated his commitment saying: “I strongly support the shark action plan, we must do everything we can to protect vulnerable species and ensure that stocks are exploited sustainably. Better science and information gathering are fundamental to the plan’s success”, he went on to say; “The UK will continue to work with the Commission, conservation groups and the fishing industry to ensure that this plan produces robust, workable and effective measures to protect and sustainably manage shark stocks”
Meeting at the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh the Scottish Secretary of State for the Environment and Rural Affairs, Mr Richard Lochhead, stated to the Trust: “I welcome the publication of this Action Plan which suggests taking a well-balanced approach. We will study it and its implications in detail. The Commission’s approach should allow time for fishing practices to adapt to new management techniques that may need to be developed. Our scientists tell us that some shark populations are critically endangered, and we need to respond to that advice. In Scotland we will continue to work closely with the Commission, industry and with NGOs to ensure that sharks are given adequate protection and that our waters remain healthy and our fish stocks sustainable.”
The Shadow Environment Ministers for the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, Martin Horwood and Richard Benyon both expressed enthusiastic support for the plan and particular intent to see improvements to the shark finning regulation.
The Shark Trust was instrumental in the adoption of Europe’s first shark finning legislation in 2003, Director of Conservation Ali Hood commented: “Europe’s role in the shark fin trade is often overlooked, but with about 30% of the fins entering the Hong Kong fin trade originating from European vessels a priority field of action within the CPOA must be the proposal to review the EU shark finning regulation.” Although the EU shark finning regulation forbids the removal of shark fins at sea, Member States can opt to provide registered vessels with ‘special fishing permit’ which allow the removal of fins at sea providing, fins and carcasses are landed in compliance with a complicated 5% fin:carcass ratio.
Five member states provide special fishing permits: the UK being one of them.
The Shark Plan proposes to address this loophole seeking a tightening of the ratio and enforcing the requirement to land both fins and carcasses at the same port. However, the Shark Trust feels strongly that the most reliable means to prohibit finning is to adhere to the original intent of the regulation and ensure all sharks are landed with their fins attached. In this vein the Trust strongly advocates that the UK cease the provision of special fishing permits and is in discussion with the UK Fisheries Minister regarding this. The Government appears to be demonstrating a positive intent to tighten the EU finning legislation, and has urged the European Commission to explore the potential of fins attached as a viable option.
Martin Horwood, Shadow Environment Minister for the Liberal Democrats commented: “I am pleased that within the Plan of Action for Sharks is the proposal to review the Shark Finning Legislation, in my opinion this is a priority element of a plan which, if promptly enforced, has the potential to make great strides towards the sustainable management of sharks in our waters.”
The Community Plan of Action for Sharks represents a significant step in the right direction for shark conservation and sustainable management, but it will only be effective if Member States act with a sense of urgency and commit to a robust timetable of implementation when Council Conclusions are adopted in late April. Undeniably the UK has shark fishing interests, but the need to manage these fisheries and protect vulnerable species has been acknowledged by both government and some sectors of industry and this is a positive start. The Shark Trust considers the publication of the plan of action as the start of the next chapter in the long campaign to secure a sustainable future for sharks and their relatives.
Ali Hood, Director of Conservation, 01752 672020 / 07855 386083