European Parliament votes against serious threat to shark populations

Press Release Date: August 20, 2013

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: | tel.: Marta Madina

The Shark Alliance today welcomed the European Parliament’s decision to replace recommendations to further weaken already flawed shark finning regulations with calls for much needed improvements to the rules.

“We are pleased that the European Parliament has changed course on shark policy by replacing reckless recommendations with those based in science,” said Sonja Fordham, Shark Alliance Policy Director. “This responsible decision reflects the growing awareness of the plight of these vulnerable species and the public’s will to safeguard them. We are hopeful it will represent the first step toward a sound conservation plan for Europe’s imperiled sharks.”

Although finning – dumping the shark’s body at sea after removal of its fins – is theoretically banned in the EU, the regulations are too weak to actually prevent the practice from occurring. 

Most finning bans rely on a fin to carcass weight ratio as a means of checking whether the amount of fins landed corresponds to the amount of bodies landed. Scientists and the IUCN (World Conservation Union) have recommended a fin to body ratio of 2%. The EU’s current regulation stipulates a maximum of 5%.  The European Parliament (EP) has now rejected a recommendation from its Fisheries Committee that would have facilitated the illegal finning of at least three sharks for every one landed through an inflated ratio of 6.5%.  In a remarkable departure from the Fisheries Committee course, the EP is now calling instead for a decrease in the ratio to 2%.

One third of European shark, skate and ray populations assessed, now qualify for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered), with another 20 per cent considered at risk of becoming threatened in the near future.  A new scientific study* published in Ecology Letters estimates that up to 73 million sharks are killed annually to supply the fin market.  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 carcass ratio was championed by Spanish MEPs, Rosa Miguelez Ramos and Carmen Fraga Estevez.

“With this vote, the European Parliament has acknowledged science, the precautionary principle and the alarming decline of crucial shark populations,” said Julie Cator, Oceana Europe.  “It is now up to the European Commission to follow the Parliament and strengthen the finning rules as part of an overall strategy for healthy shark populations and sustainable shark fisheries.”

The Shark Alliance is a coalition of international non-governmental organizations 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.

* Ecology Letters 2006, ‘Global Estimates of Shark Catches using Trade Records from Commercial Markets’ by Shelley C. Clarke et al.