EU urged to tackle shark fin loopholes

17 Nov 2010
Loopholes in current EU regulation  make it possible for fishermen to fin an estimated two out of three sharks without detection or punishment.

Loopholes in current EU regulation make it possible for fishermen to fin an estimated two out of three sharks without detection or punishment.

The Shark Alliance has given its support to an option to amend the EU ban on shark finning that would require that fins remain naturally attached to shark bodies until fishing vessels return to port.

This option was included in a new public consultation document released by the European Commission, nearly two years after the Commission pledged to strengthen the ban on finning—the wasteful practice of slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea.
 
Loopholes in the current EU regulation, adopted in 2003, make it possible for fishermen to fin an estimated two out of three sharks without detection or punishment.

The Commission is soliciting input on three options for amending the associated regulation, including two that could substantially strengthen the current regulation.
 
“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 consultation could result in a substantial policy improvement, particularly if the one truly reliable option for preventing finning—a complete prohibition on the removal of shark fins at sea—is adopted.”
 
Most scientists agree that requiring sharks to be landed with their fins still naturally attached to their bodies is by far the best method for implementing finning bans. Not only will this policy result in vastly improved enforcement, but it will also allow for better species-specific catch data collection, which is vital for the assessment and management of shark populations.
 
The Shark Alliance will participate in the Commission’s public consultation, which runs through until 21 February 2011. The Commission intends to send a formal proposal for a revised regulation to the EU Council and Parliament next year.
 
The European Commission publicly pledged to strengthen the EU finning ban in February 2009 with the release of the European Community Plan of Action for Sharks.

In April 2009, in its official conclusions on the Shark Action Plan, the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers highlighted the need to amend the finning ban as a matter of priority.

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

Germany and the United Kingdom recently stopped issuing these permits.

Currently, only Spain and Portugal grant them, and they do so for most of their shark fishermen.

In 2003, in an attempt to prevent finning under these permits, EU fishery managers adopted a maximum fin weight to carcass weight ratio. Such ratios are used around the world to ensure that shark fins and bodies are landed in proper proportions.

The EU ratio of 5% whole weight, however, is higher and more lenient than those of other countries. This ratio is set at more than twice the science- based, IUCN standard, resulting in the theoretical possibility of up to two out of three sharks caught in European waters, or by European vessels, being finned.

On top of this, it is currently legal for EU boats to land shark fins and carcasses in separate ports. This second loophole further complicates enforcement and undermines an already weak policy.

The Shark Alliance is a coalition of over 100 conservation, scientific and recreational organisations dedicated to improving global shark conservation policies.  It was initiated and is co-ordinated by the Pew Environment Group.

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