European Union proposes sweeping shark management measures in ICCAT

Proposal includes what can be world’s first international catch limits for vulnerable sharks.

Press Release Date: December 18, 2013

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: | tel.: Marta Madina

While the plight of the bluefin tuna is grabbing much of the world’s attention at this week’s meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) in Marrakesh, Morocco, some other vulnerable species have now been given the spotlight they deserve. Sharks, the powerful but vulnerable predators of the oceans, have been fished for decades in the Atlantic without any management measures. But now, the European Union (EU) has presented bold proposals that could change all that.

Oceana, the international marine conservation organization, applauds this move by the EU with regards to pelagic sharks. The three proposals, if adopted, will represent a major step forward in the protection of shark species which have an elevated risk of depletion in the Atlantic Ocean. Oceana strongly encourages the other delegations present at ICCAT to agree these three proposals put forward by the EU.

The EU’s first proposal aims to prohibit directed fisheries for thresher sharks and hammerhead sharks. These sharks are among the most vulnerable in the world, and are taken as by-catch (accidental catch) in Atlantic longline fisheries targeting tuna and other sharks. Their low reproductive rates place them at particular risk of overfishing. The EU’s proposal also requires vessels to release caught threshers and hammerheads, alive or dead, and promotes increased data reporting.

The second proposal includes groundbreaking limits for effort and catches of blue sharks and mako sharks, the two species most often caught in Atlantic longline fisheries. These two species are highly vulnerable to fisheries exploitation, and recent analysis by the ICCAT scientific committee shows that the shortfin mako may already be overfished. The EU’s proposal includes limiting fisheries effort to 2008 levels for vessels catching blue and mako sharks, and limiting the authorized level of mako shark catches to the average level from 2005-2007.

A final proposal by the EU encourages increased collaboration and assessment among fisheries organizations for the porbealge shark in the Atlantic Ocean. The porbeale is Critically Endangered in the Northeast Atlantic, according to the IUCN.

“The EU plays an important role in shark fisheries in the Atlantic, and I’m glad to see them take this strong and positive stance to lead sustainable fishing for these species. If the rest of the ICCAT parties follow this lead, we will make a huge advancement in securing the future of these vulnerable animals,” declared Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research for Oceana in Europe.

Traditionally, sharks were considered as by-catch in fisheries for highly migratory species like tuna and swordfish. As those stocks have decreased and the value of certain shark products has increased, this situation has changed. Pelagic sharks are now the targeted species of the Spanish and Portuguese surface longline fleets, among other non-EU fleets like Taiwan, PoC and Japan. They are caught primarily for their valuable fins that are sold to Asia for elaboration of the popular shark fin soup.

The ICCAT meeting ends next Monday, November 24th.