EU urged to ban removing shark fins at sea

10 Dec 2010

Shark fisheries experts say in a new report that to strengthen the European Union’s ban on shark finning, EU fishermen should no longer be permitted to remove shark fins onboard ships, and that loopholes in regulations make it possible for fishermen to fin an estimated two out of every three sharks without detection or punishment.

The study from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Shark Specialist Group (SSG) and the European Elasmobranch Association (EEA), ‘Sharks fins in Europe: Implications for reforming the EU finning ban’, compares shark catching, processing, trade and regulations of the EU with those of the rest of the world and makes recommendations for improvement.

“The international debate on whether to prohibit finning”—the wasteful practice of slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea—“and how best to implement such a rule has been raging for more than a decade,” said Sarah Fowler, report author and former SSG co-chair and EEA president. “Our report set out to examine this history, with particular emphasis on the influence of EU fisheries, trade and management policies, and to develop clear recommendations on how to improve the current situation.”

In demonstrating that prohibiting at-sea removal is the best option for implementing the finning ban, experts noted that this method also facilitates the collection of species-specific catch data, which are vital for the assessment and management of shark populations.

“The waste and unsustainable mortality associated with finning pose threats to shark populations, fisheries, food security and the sustainability of marine ecosystems,” said Sonja Fordham, deputy chair of the IUCN SSG and co-author of the report summary.

“The most reliable way to enforce a shark-finning prohibition is to require that sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached to their bodies. This method is being mandated for more and more fisheries, particularly in Central and North America, creating momentum for global change.”

The study was undertaken to contribute to the current debate on weaknesses in the EU finning regulation.

Last month, the European Commission launched a public consultation on options for amending the regulation, including a ban on at-sea fin removal.

“For too long, the EU has left the door open to shark finning,” said Uta Bellion, director of the Pew Environment Group’s European Marine Programme and European co-ordinator of the Shark Alliance. “This report reinforces our call on the EU Commission to propose legislation in 2011 with the one truly reliable option for preventing finning—a complete prohibition of the removal of shark fins at sea.”

Spain, France, the UK and Portugal rank among the top 20 countries for shark catch. The combined landings of these four member states put the EU second in the world, behind only Indonesia, in volume of shark catches.

For a copy of the report go to: www.sharkalliance.org

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