BRUSSELS — Shark Alliance representatives were on hand this week as the European Parliament Fisheries Committee considered and debated for the first time the European Commission’s proposal to close major loopholes in the EU ban on shark finning (slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea). The Commission has proposed ending special permits that allow fishermen to cut off shark fins at sea and land them separately from the bodies, under a derogation to the overall EU requirement for landing sharks with their fins still naturally attached. Portugal and Spain are the only EU Member States still issuing these special permits, a fact that was clearly reflected in the afternoon’s debate.
Maria do Céu Patrão Neves Member of European Parliament (MEP) from Portugal started the discussion in her role as Committee Rapporteur. Despite insisting that she had an open mind on the matter and was listening to all sides, all of Patrão Neves’ arguments were based on those offered by the Portuguese and Spanish long-distance freezer vessels, which make up the EU’s largest shark fishing fleet. With little supporting documentation or specifics, she cited concerns about economic hardship, safety, hygiene, and storage to argue against the proposed “fins naturally attached” policy, and called instead for delay of the regulation and compromise measures. She questioned the Commission on why they were moving forward with the proposal, apparently forgetting that she was among the 423 MEPs to sign in 2010 a Written Declaration urging the Commission to propose a complete ban on removing shark fins on board vessels. Patrão Neves was vigorously supported by MEP Carmen Fraga from Spain, who argued, also without specific figures, against imposing this “costly measure” that would have “major repercussions” in the future.
MEPs Struan Stevenson (UK), Vice Chair of the Committee, Raül Romeva i Rueda (Spain), Chris Davies (UK), and a designee for Kriton Arsenis (Greece) argued adeptly in favor of the Commission’s proposal, casting great doubt on industry’s arguments based on examples from other countries, while highlighting the great number of vessels with special permits, the biological vulnerability of sharks, and the need for the EU to lead rather than lag behind a growing number of countries effectively imposing fins-attached policies.
A representative from the European Commission reviewed the loopholes associated with the current regulation, stressed that there were practical solutions to all concerns raised, as detailed in the Impact Assessment, set the record straight regarding the number of special permits (approximately 200), and refuted the assertion that their proposal, which has been years in the making, was “hasty”. Patrão Neves, however, was “extremely disappointed” with his response, asserted that MEPs were there to “defend the fishing industry of Europe”, and reiterated her opposition to the proposal.
Earlier in the day, the European Parliament’s Environment Committee discussed the same issue, beginning with a draft opinion report from MEP Andrea Zanoni from Italy that strongly supported the Commission’s proposal. Zanoni’s report then received enthusiastic endorsements from all MEPs taking the floor, including MEPs Daciana Sârbu (Romania), Sandrine Bélier (France), Martin Callanan on behalf of Julie Girling (UK), and Chris Davies (UK).
The process to amend the EU finning ban will continue to heat up throughout the spring. In the coming weeks, Maria do Céu Patrão Neves is expected to release her working document with a proposed compromise for consideration by the Fisheries Committee. Her draft report as well as an informal document reflecting the views of the European Council of Fisheries Ministers should become public in mid-March.