The Shark Alliance, a coalition of 76 organisations worldwide, initiated and co-ordinated by the Pew Environment Group, is marking the end of European Shark Week (ESW), by urging European fisheries ministers to respond to public calls for a stronger EU prohibition of shark “finning,” the wasteful practice of slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea.
“The large numbers of events and participants in European Shark Week illustrates the growing desire for greater shark conservation,” said Uta Bellion, director of the Pew Environment Group’s European Marine Programme and European Co-ordinator for the Shark Alliance. “I am confident that the outpouring of public support will convince policymakers to move swiftly with their intent to strengthen the EU finning ban.”
The third annual ESW, supported by the Save Our Seas Foundation, saw aquariums, dive groups and conservation organisations in the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Malta, Spain, France, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Poland, the Netherlands, Ireland and Portugal hosting more than 300 events.
Roughly 30,000 people have already signed the European Shark Week petition calling on José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Prime Minister of Spain, to take the courageous step of becoming a leader in shark conservation.
Spain is Europe’s top shark fishing nation and ranks fourth in the world. Coupled with its forthcoming January takeover of the EU presidency, it is a leading force in the formulation of EU shark policy. The Spanish government has recently taken positive steps to protect some threatened species of sharks, but remains the principal obstacle to an effective EU finning ban. Spain is one of only three EU countries to issue special permits that allow fishermen to remove shark fins at sea through a derogation of the existing EU shark finning ban.
Sharks and related rays are particularly vulnerable to overfishing because they generally grow slowly, mature late and produce few young. Most European populations of sharks and rays are overfished and one-third are threatened with extinction. Despite these grave statistics, most EU shark and ray fishing remains unregulated and scientific advice for catch limits is rarely heeded.
The EU finning ban is among the weakest in the world. An EU Shark Plan, adopted by the European Commission and endorsed by EU Member States earlier this year, sets the stage for vast improvements in shark policies, including the finning ban. Follow up action, however, is urgently needed to ensure that the plan is effective and avoids any further damage.
The Shark Alliance was initiated and is co-ordinated by the Pew Environment Group, the conservation arm of the Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-government organisation that applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life.
The Save Our Seas Foundation, European Shark Week's sponsor, is a non-profit organization that establishes and supports scientific research and educational projects focused on the need to protect our world’s oceans. Its initiatives provide key information about the importance of maintaining the delicate ecological balance in marine ecosystems. In particular, SOSF aims to learn more about the role sharks and rays play as top predators and the devastating consequences of removing them from our seas.