Shark Alliance Names "Shark Champions" for 2009

Shark Alliance Names "Shark Champions" for 2009

Brussels — In conjunction with the European Seafood Exposition, the Shark Alliance announces the results of its three-month EU Member State Challenge aimed at encouraging countries to champion implementation of the European Commission's new EU Shark Plan. The Plan, endorsed last week by the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers, sets the stage for sweeping improvements in EU shark fishing policies, including a stronger ban on "finning". The UK, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands have been named "Shark Champions" for 2009 while Spain and Portugal ranked last.

In order to be named a Shark Champion, countries needed to call for prompt implementation of the EU Shark Plan (including immediate finning ban revisions), communicate well with the Shark Alliance as to development of the Fisheries Ministers' official response to the Shark Plan, and support near zero EU catch limits for several threatened shark species (spiny dogfish, porbeagle and deepwater sharks), in line with scientific advice.

"For threatened spiny dogfish and porbeagle sharks, Germany has demonstrated leadership within both fisheries and wildlife arenas, setting an example for not only Europe but the rest of the world," said Heike Zidowitz, Shark Alliance Coordinator for Germany.

Germany and the UK have been among the EU Member States that issue "special fishing permits" that allow removal of shark fins at sea (bodies must be retained, but fin removal complicates enforcement).  Recently, Germany stopped issuing these permits while the UK is considering the same action.

"We are pleased by the UK's scrutiny of their shark fin removal permits and urge them to discontinue them," added Ali Hood, Conservation Director for the Shark Trust, a Shark Alliance member.  "The UK broke ground with domestic protection for basking and angel sharks, but national safeguards for additional species are clearly warranted and urgent."

Countries found to be "helping sharks, but should do more" included those which generally supported the Shark Plan and communicated with the Shark Alliance: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Romania and Slovenia. Malta earned extra credit for protecting the endangered giant devil ray in their waters.

Countries found to be "not helping the sharks" were those which failed to respond to Shark Alliance queries: Austria, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Luxembourg, Poland and Slovakia.

Spain and Portugal landed in the "hurting the sharks" category, mainly for resistance to strengthening the EU finning ban.  Spanish representatives in Brussels also declined to meet with the Shark Alliance.

The actions of France resulted in a new category: "helping and hurting the sharks" to which the coalition added the European Commission.  France has been an outspoken proponent of a stronger EU finning ban, but also obstructed proposed closure of its targeted fishery for Critically Endangered porbeagle sharks.  The Commission delivered a sound EU Shark Plan which includes commitments to strengthen the finning ban, but a month later proposed weakening the international finning ban for the Indian Ocean.

The Czech Republic earned a special "honourable mention" in the Challenge.  The landlocked country currently holding the EU Presidency showed solid leadership in publicising the importance of the Shark Plan and shepherding a strong response from the Council of Fisheries Ministers.

The Shark Alliance is now looking to the next EU presidency, Sweden, to carry on the momentum of EU shark conservation. "We are proud of Sweden's shark conservation record to date," said David Bernvi of the Swedish Elasmobranch Society. "As the next EU President, however, Sweden has a crucial responsibility to help make the strengthening of the finning ban an immediate EU priority."

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Notes to Editors:

The Shark Alliance is a coalition of 70 conservation, scientific and recreational organisations dedicated to improving EU policies on sharks.

Finning is the wasteful practice of cutting off a shark's fin and discarding the body at sea.  The EU finning ban is currently among the weakest in the world.

The Council of Fisheries Ministers issued their official response ("Conclusions") to the EU Shark Plan on 23rd of April 2009  The European Commission released the Shark Plan on 5th February 2009.

Countries issuing special fishing permits for shark fin removal include Lithuania, Portugal, Spain, and UK.

The Shark Alliance was initiated, and is coordinated, by the Pew Environment Group, the conservation arm of the Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-government organisation that is working to end overfishing in the world’s oceans.