The environmental organisation states that Spain is contributing to the disappearance of sharks due to the importance of this country’s fleet in fisheries all over the world.
In a letter addressed to the ruling Partido Socialista Obrero Español (Spanish Socialist Party, or PSOE) and to the main opposition force, the Partido Popular (People’s Party, or PP), Oceana, the international marine conservation organisation, requests answers for the recent proposals by their Members of the European Parliament (MEP) to increase shark fin removal, and asks for the partys’ proposals to establish management systems for these important animals.
Sharks are extremely vulnerable creatures despite their fierce image perpetuated in the media, and their populations cannot withstand the incredible fishing pressure placed upon them, both as targeted species and as accidental catches. Their populations around the entire globe are facing severe and widespread declines. For example, in the Northwest Atlantic, blue shark (Prionace glauca) populations have declined by 60%. In European waters, this species, once one of the most commonly found, is now proposed as “vulnerable” to extinction by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
In the letter, Oceana explains to the highest PSOE and PP officials both in the Parties and in national and European institutions Spain’s important role in shark population declines all over the world. Its fleet’s participation in the capture and international trade of sharks and shark parts (meat, fins, livers, jaws, etc.) trumps that of any other European nation: Spanish shark landings have increased over nine-fold since the 1990s, while those of other EU nations have decreased; in 2003 Spain was the world leader in imports of shark products, accounting for 15% of the global share, the world’s second greatest exporter, and reported the world’s fourth largest shark capture; and in 2004, Spain was responsible for 45% of total EU shark catches, with 51,071 tons.
Despite recognition by the international community of the grave problem caused by the shark fin trade in particular, this past September certain PSOE and PP MEPs, led by socialist Rosa Miquélez and popular Carmen Fraga, jointly submitted a proposal to the European Parliament to weaken the EU’s shark finning prohibition and allow more blue shark fins to be landed than scientifically recommended. Shark finning, defined as removing the fins from sharks and discarding the remainder of the body at sea, is one of the most wasteful fishing practices in the world.
“We are happy the European Parliament based its decision on sound scientific data and defeated the Spanish MEPs’ proposal with an overwhelming majority, but we still can’t comprehend why it was proposed in the first place.” said Xavier Pastor, Director of Oceana in Europe. “Their move completely contradicts initiatives being taken by the rest of the world on this matter.”
Through a series of questions presented to the two major political parties, Oceana hopes to get clarification to the causes behind this initiative. “We would like to know if this was an isolated initiative or if it is indicative of a common strategy between the two parties. It is a shame that the only thing on which the PSOE and PP seem to agree is a destructive fishing policy that includes the overexploitation of sharks,” adds the fisheries biologist Pastor.
According to Oceana, if this initiative grew out of a common strategy, then the parties must have key information on shark conservation and trade to support it. However, any information supporting this initiative would be contradictory to that of scientific and political forums dealing with these matters around the world. Oceana thus requests that the parties not only contribute that information to shark and other elasmobranch management and investigative forums, but also make it available to all European citizens, as it may have international implications.
In addition, Oceana reminds the parties that Spain has not complied with its international commitments to establish shark management plans, and asks that the political parties explain their policies and plans to tackle the global problem of shark population declines.
Oceana believes that unless the political parties can provide data that is totally different from that of the international scientific community, initiatives such as the one undertaken in the European Parliament by the Spanish MEPs will only result in Spain becoming the leading cause in the disappearance of sharks around the world. Oceana strongly urges the Spanish government to join international efforts to end the decline in elasmobranch populations, with the ultimate goal of achieving adequate conservation and management systems for these animals.