Vulnerable shark species are accidentally caught and/or discarded in many European Union fisheries and must be prioritized in fisheries management policies.
Oceana, the international organisation dedicated to conserving and protecting the world’s oceans, has carried out a year-long investigation into European Union shark fisheries and trade around the world. The first report of the series “Hunted for Fins”, was published in May 2007, revealing sharks are targeted species and hunted by EU longline vessels for their valuable fins. This second report, “Treated as Trash”, highlights the levels of shark by-catches and discards in EU fisheries. The report stresses the need to eliminate shark discards and reduce shark by-catches through effective management measures.
More than 7.3 million tonnes of fish are thrown overboard every year. Shark by-catches and discards reach high proportions in many fisheries, including purse seiners, deep-sea gillnetters, longliners, and trawlers. Because sharks grow slowly, mature late and produce few young, they are defenseless against overexploitation and these high levels of by-catch and discards are unsustainable for their populations.
“These vulnerable species, often taken as by-catch and unofficial targeted catch, are in urgent need of regulation”, said Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana in Europe. “With roughly one-third of the sharks and rays in European waters characterized as Threatened by the IUCN Red List, action is urgently needed to restrain excessive shark mortality and reverse recent dramatic declines in shark populations”, he added.
“Discards”, defined as the portion of the animal catch that is thrown away at sea for one reason or another, are a waste of fisheries resources and disrupt marine ecosystems. Shark discards not only absurdly overexploit vulnerable populations, but also significantly interfere with the balance of the food chain by promoting the development of opportunistic species that feed on the discarded fish. In addition, as discards cannot be adequately measured and are rarely reported to management bodies, they represent an unknown portion of biomass extracted from the sea and pose an additional problem for properly evaluating stocks.
“By-catches”, the unintentional or incidental captures of non-target species during fishing operations, can also be extended to those species intentionally targeted and commercialized but without management plans or fishing quotas. By-catch is generally not accounted for or regulated and often, shark by-catch represents high valued products in many European Union fisheries. The European Commission recently declared the elimination of discards and drastic reduction in by-catch a priority.
“As top regulators of the food chain, sharks should be considered with the highest priority in the scope of the proposed European Union by-catch and discards policy. Reductions in populations of shark species threaten the global marine environment, with unpredictable consequences on commercial fish stocks. Regulating fisheries, markets, by-catches and discards of sharks is thus essential”, concluded Pastor.
Oceana’s report “Treated as Trash” is available on line
Oceana’s first report in the series “Hunted for Fins” is also available on line