EU tackles shark finning loopholes

MEPs: Brussels’ progress in fulfilling pledges to strengthen the shark finning ban has been slow. MEPs: Brussels’ progress in fulfilling pledges to strengthen the shark finning ban has been slow.

Members of the European Parliament have launched an initiative to press for strengthening the EU ban on shark ‘finning’ – the practice of slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the carcass at sea.

Although the EU finning regulation prohibits the removal of sharks fins at sea, a derogation allows EU member states to provide fishermen with special permits to ‘process’ sharks, and thereby remove fins, onboard vessels.

It is suggested the simplest, most effective way to implement a finning ban is to require that sharks are landed whole with their fins naturally attached.

Four MEPs from the ALDE, EPP-DE, Greens-EFA and S&D groups of the European Parliament- Chris Davies from the UK, Sirpa Pietikäinen from Finland, Daciana Octavia Sârbu from Romania, and Jean-Paul Besset from France - launched a ‘Written Declaration’ inviting all MEPs to join in calling on the Commission to deliver a proposal to completely prohibit the removal of shark fins onboard vessels and provide protection for these vulnerable species.

“For too many European fisheries, the EU ban on finning is the only measure in place that helps curb excessive killing of sharks. The ban must be strengthened to ensure that this incredibly wasteful practice is prevented,” said Davies.

Besset said French fishermen are already leaving the fins attached to sharks caught in oceans all over the world, demonstrating that this strategy is entirely feasible.

“We cannot wait any longer to enforce robust protection for these important predators, which are so key to the balance of life in the sea,” he said.

All EU member states have a responsibility to ensure that EU policies are sound and set a good example for other countries, added Pietikäinen. “It is inexcusable that the current EU finning regulation is one of the weakest in the world. It is high time that the EU heeded the overwhelming scientific consensus that sharks should be landed with fins naturally attached.”

Despite the adoption of a Community Plan of Action for Sharks, and a request from the Council for prompt implementation, the Commission’s progress in fulfilling pledges to strengthen the shark finning ban has been slow, said Sârbu.

“We are hopeful that the written declaration will help to raise the priority of this important endeavor and that the Commission will heed our call to send us a proposal for completely ending at-sea shark fin removal by the second anniversary of the EU Shark Plan in February 2011.”

MEPs first called on the Commission to strengthen the shark finning ban in 2006.In February 2009, the Commission released the Community Plan of Action for Sharks, which set the stage for sweeping improvements in EU shark policies, including the finning ban.

The Commission is now reviewing the regulation with a view to issuing a proposal for the European Parliament in the first quarter of 2011.

A consultation on their thinking is expected soon.

A Written Declaration is a procedure of the European Parliament whereby MEPs present a text to be signed by their colleagues. Written Declarations can be used to launch a debate on a subject within the EU’s remit.

If the Written Declaration is signed by a majority of MEPs before 20 December 2010, it is endorsed by the plenary session of the Parliament and forwarded to the Commission, which is currently reviewing the EU regulation on shark finning.

The ‘fins naturally attached’ method was developed by Costa Rican fishermen to overcome problems of storage on board.

The sharks’ fins are partially cut and laid flat along the carcass allowing fishermen to process and freeze sharks on-board without cutting the fins off. This method is now used in most Central American countries, as well as some fisheries in Australia and the US.

Landing sharks with fins attached not only effectively halts the practice of finning but also offers vastly improved information about the species caught, vital for robust population assessment and effective shark management.

The Shark Alliance is a coalition of more than 100 conservation, scientific and recreational organisations dedicated to restoring and conserving shark populations by improving shark conservation policies.

It was initiated and is coordinated by the Pew Environment Group.

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