Oceana highlights the misreporting of shark catch data by European countries and hopes to see cooperation on the part of the Spanish and French governments with ICCAT.
This week’s meeting could be the first time international catch limits for sharks are proposed.
The International Council for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) is the organisation responsible for the management of tuna and sharks in the Atlantic Ocean. This week, internationally recognized shark scientists will gather in Madrid to carry out an assessment of several shark species and propose management measures for these threatened animals. Oceana hopes that the shark specialists propose clear management measures for sharks including quotas.
Until now shark catches in the Atlantic have not been managed or regulated and the more than 150 European Union industrial surface longliners registered with ICCAT can take as many pelagic sharks as they want.
According to ICCAT requirements, all countries involved in shark fisheries the Atlantic must report their catches to the organisation on a species-specific level. As many shark species are threatened with extinction in the Atlantic, having correct and complete catch data is of utmost importance to base the scientific advice. However, ICCAT-registered countries either do not report their catch data by species, or report incorrect figures or not at all.
Sharks are highly valuable species, especially due to high economic value of their fins which are consumed in Asia, and their liver oil, used as an ingredient in cosmetics. The demand for both products is rising on the world market. The European Union includes some of the most important shark fishing nations in the world. In 2006, European Union countries together reported the second largest elasmobranch (sharks, rays and skates) catch in the world, with nearly 95,000 tons. Spain took the largest share with around 43% of the EU total, followed by France (20%), Portugal (18%) and the UK (8%).
“European Union countries must contribute to shark conservation in the Atlantic Ocean, our home waters”, says Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research for Oceana in Europe. “In fact, out of the four sharks taken most by EU longliners, thresher and mako sharks are considered globally vulnerable by the IUCN Red List and some hammerhead shark are considered endangered.”
Oceana’s comparisons of catch data from various sources for sharks in the Atlantic indicate a massive underreporting. Oceana reported to the ICCAT shark specialist group that several EU countries misreport shark catch data to ICCAT according to the database of catch records. Of the four big European shark fishing nations who are responsible for almost 90% of the EU shark catch, Spain doesn’t report shark catches on a correct species level and France doesn’t report shark catches at all. Other EU countries that don’t report their shark catches to ICCAT but that do indeed catch sharks include Ireland, Belgium, Greece, Netherlands, Estonia, Lithuania, Denmark, Sweden, Malta, Germany, Cyprus, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia.
Past scientific studies have indicated that actual worldwide shark catches are three to four times higher than the shark catches reported in official databases.
These week´s negotiations may present the first steps in establishing international catch limits for pelagic sharks.