As the third largest world shark and ray fishing power, Spain should take the lead in the effort to preserve these species.
A report published on Wednesday 30th April by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on the conservation state of fish stocks in the Mediterranean reveals that shark and ray species are at risk. Specifically, 40% of all shark, ray and chimaera species are threatened in the area, according to IUCN criteria.
Spain is the EU’s main shark fishing member state and globally ranks third in terms of shark catches and trade. The Spanish fleet catches sharks and rays in targeted fisheries but also as by-catch in all of the world’s seas. Although there are no Spanish shark fisheries in the Mediterranean, significant numbers are caught as by-catch with various fishing gears such as longline, trawl, purse seine or gillnet, with practically no catch limits.
“Spain has taken positive steps towards the protection of some shark species”, says Àlex Bartolí, Spanish policy coordinator for the Shark Alliance. Recently, species such as the giant devil ray, the basking shark, the great white shark, the thresher shark and the smooth hammerhead have benefited from a protected status in Spanish waters, including those of the Mediterranean, since they were included on the List of Wild Species in the Special Protection Programme (“Listado de Especies Silvestres en Régimen de Protección Especial”). “It is necessary to keep working in this direction and protect more species that are seriously endangered, such as the angel shark, the guitarfish and the white skate”, adds Bartolí.
The IUCN report also highlights that one of the few existing measures to protect sharks, the current EU regulation banning finning (the practice of cutting off a shark’s fins and discarding the rest of the carcass back into the sea), contains a number of loopholes preventing effective monitoring and enforcement, thus rendering it ineffective.
Spain is one of the few countries opposing reform of the EU Finning Regulation, specifically a requirement to land sharks with their fins naturally attached to their bodies at port. However, the numerous practical advantages of a fins naturally attached strategy has led to an increasing number of shark fishing countries adopting this practice.
“As a world leader in terms of shark catches, Spain has the responsibility to lead the preservation of these species on all fronts. Reforming the EU Finning regulation to require fishing vessels to land sharks with their fins naturally attached to their bodies is the only way to ensure compliance and enforcement and would constitute a great step towards the conservation of these species", concludes Bartolí.
Álex Bartolí, +34 636 475 999
Although the general rule of the EU Finning Regulation (1185/2003 EC) requires the landing of sharks with the fins naturally attached to their bodies, under a derogation it is possible to obtain Special Fishing Permits to keep cutting off shark fins onboard fishing vessels and land the shark carcasses and fins at different ports.
After a consultation period from November 2010 to February 2011 launched by the Directorate-General on Fisheries and Maritime Affairs of the European Commission, the EU Regulation is currently being reviewed, and the European Commission is expected to publish its proposal for a new regulation during the second half of this year.
In the Mediterranean, there are no catch limits for sharks and rays species, and only the basking shark, the great white shark, the porbeagle, the angel shark and the bigeye thresher are protected. Guitarfishes, which are especially valuable because their fins are used for the preparation of shark fin soup, are classified as “endangered” by the IUCN. In the Mediterranean, guitarfishes used to be common species, but nowadays they are considered locally extinct in some areas. Angel sharks and white skates are listed as “critically endangered” by the IUCN, and some local populations of these sea-bottom shark and rays species have been exterminated as a result of being accidentally caught (by-catch) in fisheries targeted to other species.
The Shark Alliance is a coalition of more than 100 conservation, scientific and recreational organisations dedicated to restoring and conserving shark populations by improving conservation policies. The Shark Alliance was initiated and is coordinated by the Pew Environment Group, the conservation arm of The Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-governmental organisation that is working to end overfishing in the world's oceans.