Conservationists rally MEPs to make, not break EU ban on shark finning

New amendment offers hope for strengthening rather than weakening the EU ban, safeguarding some of the ocean’s most vulnerable species.

Press Release Date: August 20, 2013

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: | tel.: Marta Madina

Member organisations of the Shark Alliance, a coalition of conservation NGOs, today expressed hope that a strong, cross-Party Amendment in the European Parliament can correct troubling calls to weaken the EU’s ban on shark finning contained in the draft report from Parliament’s Fisheries Committee. Oceana, The Ocean Conservancy and The Shark Trust – founding members of the Shark Alliance — have been working to improve the Fisheries Committee report for months. The draft  Report will be subject to debate and vote this week in Strasbourg, France during the Parliament’s Plenary session.

“The European Parliament now faces a clear choice: to promote or deplore the wasteful practice of shark finning,” said Julie Cator, Policy Director of Oceana Europe.  “Replacing the Fisheries Committee’s damaging recommendation with a sound scientific standard is essential to ensuring that illegal finning does not take place in European waters.”

‘Finning’, the practice of dumping a shark’s body at sea after the removal of its valuable fins, is banned in many countries, but the growing demand for fins – rising at around five per cent per year – is driving the exploitation of loopholes and this latest attempt to weaken EU regulations. 

Most finning bans rely on a fin to body weight ratio as a means of checking whether the amount of fins landed corresponds to the amount of bodies landed. Scientists and the IUCN have concluded that the appropriate fin to body ratio is 2%. The EU’s current regulation stipulates a maximum of 5% and the Parliament’s Fisheries Committee has now recommended increasing it to 6.5%, effectively allowing at least three sharks to be finned for every one landed.

“The EU finning regulation is already one of the weakest in the world,” said Sonja Fordham, Director of Shark Conservation for The Ocean Conservancy and author of a new Shark Alliance report on EU shark depletion and policy inadequacies. “The new, cross-Party Amendment offers hope for strengthening rather than weakening the EU ban, thereby safeguarding some of the ocean’s most vulnerable and imperiled species.”

One third of European shark, skate and ray populations assessed, now qualify for the IUCN (World Conservation Union) Red List of Threatened Species (as Vulnerable Endangered or Critically Endangered), with another 20 per cent considered at risk of becoming so in the near future.  Europe plays a major role in the global catch and trade of sharks.  In 2003, Spain was the world’s largest importer of shark products, the second largest exporter, and had the fourth largest catch of sharks.  The amendment to raise the shark fin to body ratio is being championed by Spanish MEPs as well as the Spanish government.

“We are encouraged by the growing concern over sharks within the European Parliament, but key improvements to the finning regulation remain an uphill battle,” said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for the UK-based Shark Trust, a key proponent of the 2003 EU finning ban.  “We call on all Members of European Parliament to stand up against shark finning this week by supporting amendments to lower the ratio in line with the overwhelming scientific advice.”

Note to editors:

The Shark Alliance is a new coalition of international non-governmental organisations dedicated to restoring and conserving shark populations by improving European fishing policy. Members include The Pew Charitable Trusts, the European Elasmobranch Association, MarViva, The Ocean Conservancy, Oceana, PADI International and Project AWARE Foundation and The Shark Trust.

At last month’s launch, the Shark Alliance released “Shark Alert: Revealing Europe’s Impact on Shark Populations,” a report detailing the depletion of European shark populations and threats to global populations as a result of European Union (EU) policy. Highlighting shark finning as a major and escalating threat, the Shark Alliance stresses that the EU finning ban is already fraught with loopholes and urgently needs tightening rather than weakening.