Two species of sharks, whose meat is highly valued for consumption in Europe, have another chance at being protected, after recent proceedings in international fora and the European Union have failed at achieving this, despite the scientific recommendations to do so. The spurdog (or, spiny dogfish, Squalus acanthias) is a small coastal shark that has been fished to the brink of collapse, and the highly migratory, oceanic porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus), a relative of makos and the great white, is equally imperilled.
The major problem facing these species is lax regional fisheries management. ICES, the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, has advised against targeted fishing (that is, a zero catch) for Northeast Atlantic spurdog and porbeagle due to their extreme vulnerability to overexploitation. However, as has been the pattern in recent years, the Fisheries Commission proposed fishing limits well above the scientific recommendations. For 2007, a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) in the Northeast Atlantic of 240 tonnes was proposed for porbeagle, and a TAC of 841 t was proposed for spurdog. Both of these slow-growing species are classified as Critically Endangered in this area according to the World Conservation Union’s Red List. This proposal will now go to the European Council of Fisheries Ministers for a final decision later this month.
In another missed opportunity for protecting sharks, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), at their annual meeting in November, did not propose any management measures or fishing limits for sharks caught in its fisheries. The lack of action by ICCAT leaves conservationists looking to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to protect the endangered shark species caught in ICCAT fisheries.
CITES provides an international legal framework for regulating trade in species at risk of extinction. In a second attempt to protect the spurdog and porbeagle, Germany has proposed both species for listing under Appendix II. This Appendix includes those species that may become threatened with extinction if their trade is not strictly regulated. Appendix II listings serve to limit trade to sustainable levels through requirements of export permits, only authorized if it is demonstrated that the trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species. Both of these species enter international trade in substantial volumes and are therefore highly relevant for CITES attention.
On December 18th and 19th, the European Commission’s Scientific Review Group and CITES Committee will meet to decide whether or not to adopt and advance these proposals to the CITES Secretariat. The proposal will need support from a majority of EU Member States in order to proceed. Spain has a huge involvement in fisheries issues, and should take responsibility for protecting the resources that will ensure its continuity. Spain’s support is crucial in advancing the proposal to the next Conference of the CITES Parties to be held mid-2007. Oceana strongly recommends that Spanish authorities vote favourably in December on the proposal, backing the opinion of the scientific authorities who announced their support of the proposal at their last Scientific Review Group meeting.
“We urge Spain to not simply vote against this proposal because they are upholding a principle of opposing the listing of commercial fish species,” said Xavier Pastor, Director of Oceana in Europe. In fact, the addition of these two species on Appendix II will have little effect on EU fisheries, as it would mainly affect fisheries in other countries that export these fish to the EU for consumption, and would help ensure that these are sustainable fisheries, assuring continued opportunities for consumption of the meat in Europe, for example in the famed dish of “fish and chips.”
Pastor added, “Voting favourably to advance this proposal would give Spain a chance to set a positive example in fisheries resource protection, instead of continuing their track record of supporting destructive fisheries management and preventing Europe from taking measures to avoid fisheries collapse. We want to see Spain support the regulation of trade of these species, and as such become a champion in protecting endangered fisheries´ resources. This would be a crucial first step towards a sound shark conservation strategy for European waters and the high seas.”