The catch limits proposed by the European Commission for certain shark species yet again exceed scientific recommendations.
Oceana, the international organisation dedicated to the conservation of the world’s oceans, is disappointed by the European Commission’s proposals for the 2008 shark quotas. The agreement of appropriate Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and fishing quotas are crucial in ensuring sustainable fisheries, and Oceana was especially hopeful to see precautionary limits proposed for threatened shark species, some of which represent a significant portion of the total catch of European fishing fleets.
Among the many species for which quotas were proposed, two shark species were included – the spurdog (Squalus acanthias) and the porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus). Although a reduction in catches was proposed for spurdog, an increase relative to last year’s proposal was proposed for porbeagle. Oceana is concerned for these already overexploited shark species. For years, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which draws together over 1,600 European scientists, has given scientific advice to the EU for the correct management of fish stocks. For both the porbeagle and spurdog, ICES’ latest advice has been for zero catches.
“For decades, many shark species, among them the spurdog, porbeagle and various deep-sea sharks, have been directly targeted for their meat, valuable fins and even liver oil,” says Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana Europe. “Nevertheless, in spite of their vulnerability, very few species are managed with proper and consistent science-based fishing limits,” he adds.
The Commission has proposed to allow 2,752 tons of by-catches for spurdog. While this represents a 25% decrease from last year’s TACs, it is still well above the scientific recommendations and endangers already threatened populations. The spurdog is a small bottom-living species that is exceptionally slow-growing and very late to mature, making it vulnerable to exploitation. Years of overfishing, to satisfy the constant European demand for its meat, especially in the UK, Germany, Belgium, France and Italy, have made the Northeast Atlantic stock one of the most depleted in the world. For years, scientists have warned that the Northeast Atlantic stock is in danger of collapse and that targeted fisheries for this species should not be permitted, and that a zero TAC should be established for the Northeast Atlantic.
In addition, the Commission proposed a TAC of 422 tons for porbeagle. While Oceana welcomes the Commission’s second attempt in two years to manage this species, the proposal nonetheless ignores the scientific advice for this species. The porbeagle shark, a highly migratory species closely related to the great white shark, is also exceptionally slow-growing and late to mature, making it consequently vulnerable to overfishing. These sharks are top predators in the marine food web and thus critical to maintaining the health and balance of ocean ecosystems. ICES has recommended that no targeted porbeagle fisheries be permitted and that measures be taken to prevent its by-catch, especially in the Northeast Atlantic. Nevertheless, the TAC proposed by the Commission nearly doubles last year’s, largely exceeding this scientific advice.
“Once again, the Commission’s proposal failed to outline sustainable fisheries for these species. Both the spurdog and the porbeagle are considered Critically Endangered in the Northeast Atlantic by the IUCN. We urge the Council of Fisheries Ministers to heed the scientific advice and adopt zero TACs for these species, as well as consistent by-catch reductions and limitations, during its annual meeting to decide next year’s fishing opportunities”, explains Rebecca Greenberg, Marine Scientist for Oceana.
The 2008 fishing quotas for deep-sea sharks were already agreed in December 2006. These are amongst the most unproductive and vulnerable of shark species, but also have excessive catch limits. Oceana reiterates that the scientific advice recommends a zero TAC for the entire range of the stocks of the Portuguese dogfish and leafscale gulper shark, and that additional measures should be taken to prevent their by-catch. Although the revision of deep-sea species quotas are not on the table during this round of negotiations, Oceana urges the European Community to adopt such measures at the earliest opportunity.
Still many others shark species are caught by European fisheries in European waters and around the world, and in some cases they can comprise significant portions of the total catch. Among these species are blue shark (Prionace glauca), mako shark (Isurus spp.), thresher shark (Alopias spp.) and hammerhead shark (Sphyrna spp.), all clear examples of "false" by-catch although they are currently targeted by European longline fisheries. Catch limitations for these species also need to be adopted to avoid future population declines, within the framework of a European Community Plan of Action. This plan is sorely needed for these Threatened species, and should aim to limit shark catches to sustainable levels, minimize by-catch, and strengthen the current EU shark finning regulation by requiring that sharks be landed whole with their fins attached.