Oceana, the international marine conservation organisation, strongly urges the European Commission to move forwards on amending the EU shark finning ban, following a public consultation which closes today, by developing a strong proposal requiring all sharks to be landed with their fins still attached. The existing regulation on finning was intended to stop this wasteful practice, but is deeply flawed and extremely difficult to enforce.
“Scientists and international experts have increasingly recognized that a fins-attached approach can bring significant benefits for shark management and conservation, including simpler and more effective enforcement, and improved collection of data on shark catches, which is critical for improving our knowledge about the status of shark populations,” said Ricardo Aguilar, Research Director for Oceana in Europe.
Shark finning – the practice of cutting off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea – is driven by high international value for shark fins, but relatively lower value for shark meat. While finning has been banned in the EU since 2003, some countries grant special fishing permits that allow vessels to remove fins on board, on the basis that they keep both fins and meat and that landed fins do not exceed 5% of the live weight of sharks caught. This ratio is among the most lenient globally, and an additional loophole in the legislation allows fins and carcasses to be landed separately, making monitoring very difficult.
In response to the European Commission’s consultation request, Oceana supports a fins-attached approach for the following reasons:
“A well-enforced ban on finning is only a first step towards managing sharks properly as commercially fished species within the EU,” added Dr. Allison Perry, marine wildlife scientist with Oceana in Europe. “The EU has a responsibility to implement science-based, precautionary management measures for targeted species. As long as sharks are being fished without catch limits or long-term management plans, that responsibility is not being met.”
The EU includes some of the world’s major shark fishing nations – Spain, France, Portugal, and the UK. The largest EU shark fisheries occur on the high seas, where Spanish and Portuguese pelagic longliners that historically targeted mainly tuna and swordfish now increasingly catch sharks, particularly oceanic species such as blue sharks (Prionace glauca) and shortfin makos (Isurus oxyrinchus). More than half of large oceanic shark species are currently considered threatened.
Globally, up to 73 million sharks are killed each year to satisfy the demand of the international shark fin market.