Oceana, the international marine conservation organisation, denounces the European Commission for blocking efforts to protect threatened and endangered sharks and rays in the Mediterranean Sea, under the Barcelona Convention. The protection of ten species of sharks and rays is one of the key issues for discussion at the biennial meeting of the Convention, which begins today in Paris. Non-EU nations within the Convention have already expressed their support for protecting these species.
The potential inclusion of these fish on a list of strictly protected species hinges on the EU’s vote. Yet, despite having had months to do so, the European Commission has not yet adopted a common position on the issue with European Member States. Meanwhile, in 2009, EU Member States together accounted for the highest level of reported shark catches globally (16%), which were caught in European, high seas, and third-country waters.
“After delaying this decision twice already, because they wanted more time for ‘internal discussions’, it is inexcusable that the European Commission could not manage to resolve its bureaucratic issues in time for this critical meeting,” said Ricardo Aguilar, Research Director for Oceana in Europe. “The Commission says “we need to protect sharks” but when it comes to the Mediterranean, their actions indicate the opposite, even going so far as to warn against protecting threatened species at a recent meeting on Mediterranean sharks[i].”
The Mediterranean is the region of greatest risk globally to sharks and rays, with 41% of species considered threatened, compared to 17% globally. Of the ten species under consideration at this week’s meeting, some have undergone severe population declines, including porbeagles, shortfin makos, and hammerheads, whose Mediterranean populations have been reduced by up to 99.9% during the 20th Century. Others, such as the sandy skate, Maltese skate, and common guitarfish, have vanished from some areas where they were once common. All of the species are threatened by overfishing, despite already being included on a list of species whose capture must be regulated for conservation reasons.
“It is incomprehensible that the European Commission has taken so long to resolve its position on such a clear-cut issue: highly threatened sharks and rays are being fished, and urgently require greater protection,” added Dr. Allison Perry, marine wildlife scientist with Oceana in Europe. “The EU has a responsibility – under both European law and as a signatory to the Barcelona Convention – to take precautionary measures to ensure their conservation. There is still a window of opportunity in Paris, and we trust that EU Member States and the Commission will coordinate a swift decision to grant these species the protection they deserve.”
The 17th Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention gathers policymakers from 21 Mediterranean nations and the European Union, to discuss the environmental health of the Mediterranean Sea and to decide matters related to its protection. In addition to shark and ray conservation, important issues to be discussed this week include the protection of marine areas in the open sea, and pollution resulting from offshore drilling.
[i] General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, 12-16 December 2011: “The DG-MARE representative warned that RAC/SPA should not take IUCN advice automatically because too many species of great commercial value would be included in Appendix II.” (page 12; full report here)