Paris - Scientists, environmentalists and other members of the Shark Alliance are calling on France, one of the world's most important players in shark fishing and trade, to use its power to improve the outlook for these imperilled species.
The Shark Alliance is a coalition of more than 20 non-governmental organisations dedicated to restoring and conserving shark populations by improving European fishing policy.
Specifically, the coalition is asking France to follow scientific advice and end targeted fishing for endangered shark species, support new restrictions on international trade, promote a comprehensive EU shark fisheries management plan, and strengthen the EU shark finning ban.
France is among the top 20 global shark fishing nations and in the top 10 for shark imports. Sharks are sought for their meat, fins and the oil in their livers, which is used in cosmetic and pharmaceutical products.
Within the European Union (EU), in 2004, France ranked second for shark and ray catches, with French vessels taking more than 21,000 tons of sharks (and closely related rays) from European waters and regions as far away as Antarctica, making it responsible for nearly 20 percent of the total EU catch. There are few catch limits for sharks in EU waters and no protection for sharks in France; an EU shark fishery management plan has been promised but not delivered.
"As a major player in shark fishing and consumption in Europe, France has an interest in the sustainability of shark populations, and yet is too often on the wrong side of shark fishing policies," said Eric Stéphan of Association Pour l'Etude et la Conservation des Sélaciens (APECS), a member of the Shark Alliance. "Given its influence within the EU and the broad reach of its fleets, France has the power to make or break a healthy future for sharks in Europe and around the world."
France recently took a bold step towards shark conservation when it led efforts for a moratorium on targeted fishing for deepwater sharks in the Southern Ocean by the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources thereby creating a rare model for precautionary shark management. The Shark Alliance is calling on France to take a similar role in Europe and support the development and implementation of an EU shark management plan.
Of particular concern is France's role in the depletion of spiny dogfish and porbeagle sharks. Both species are now considered Critically Endangered in the Northeast Atlantic by the IUCN (World Conservation Union) and scientists have repeatedly called for a complete halt to fishing. France is the only EU country operating a targeted porbeagle fishery. France ranked first in the world for spiny dogfish imports from 1995 to 2005. Germany, another top shark importer, has proposed both species for listing on Appendix II under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), but France is one of the few EU countries that has yet to pledge support for the proposals which have been formally submitted on behalf of the EU to the CITES Secretariat.
"France played a role in the demise of Europe's spiny dogfish and porbeagle shark populations, but now has a fleeting opportunity to help repair that damage by ending unsustainable fishing of these species and actively promoting their listing under CITES," said Sonja Fordham, Policy Director for the Shark Alliance. "France's commendable action for sharks off Antarctica should be mirrored closer to home with a moratorium on fishing for exceptionally slow-growing deepwater shark species."
The Shark Alliance is urging all EU Member States to promote a comprehensive EU shark management plan that would include science-based catch limits and close loopholes in the EU ban on shark finning.