New ICES report on dangerous decline in sharks

Press Release Date: August 20, 2013

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: | tel.: Marta Madina

Responding to the new report from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) issued today, the Shark Alliance, a coalition of NGOs dedicated to science-based conservation of sharks said: “It’s there in black and white.  The serial depletion of sharks must stop and stop now”.

The Report details the dangerous depletion of several Northeast Atlantic shark species and calls for an immediate halt to targeted fishing.  Policy Director for the Shark Alliance, Sonja Fordham said, “The findings of ICES are grim, but not surprising given the biological vulnerability of sharks.  The European Commission must heed the warning of scientists and end the targeted fishing of acutely vulnerable shark species.  If we are to avoid further depletion in European waters, the Commission must also act to reduce the incidental catch of sharks, tighten shark finning rules and improve fisheries information as part of an overall shark management plan.

ICES has advised against targeted fishing for Northeast Atlantic spurdog, porbeagle and basking shark due to extreme vulnerability and serious population decline.  Scientists have also called for reduction of incidental take (“bycatch”) of these species in other fisheries and improved data collection.

EU Fisheries Commissioner Borg has recently suggested the development of a Community plan of action for sharks, but has announced no timeline for the development or implementation of such a plan.  Sonja Fordham: “European sharks are among the most depleted in the world and their decline raising serious concerns for the overall health of the oceans.  The scientific imperative for immediate action could not be clearer.  The sharks simply cannot withstand further management delays.”


The ICES report recommends and immediate halt to targeted fishing for a handful of Europe’s approximately 130  species of sharks and closely related skates, rays and chimaeras.

These and many other European sharks and rays are included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Spurdog (or spiny dogfish), a small coastal shark, have been fished to the brink of collapse, primarily for their meat.  The highly migratory, oceanic porbeagle shark, a close relative of makos and the great white, is also prized for its meat which is among the most valuable for sharks.  The filter feeding basking shark, the second largest fish in the sea, has been devastated by fisheries for its liver oil and more recently fins. 

Northeast Atlantic spurdog and porbeagle sharks have been proposed by Germany for listing under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  Basking sharks were listed under CITES in 2002 and are protected in several countries, but recovery from such a state will be slow.

Only a few European shark and ray species are subject to any fishing restrictions at all

Commissioner Borg’s speech September 29th 2006 at the EU Parliament in response to the recent vote on shark finning (extract): “My department is currently looking into the request for the presentation of a Community plan of action by mid-2007. While it is too early to have a clear overview of the detailed work programme for 2007, it is clear that a formal, complete and detailed plan of action requires a comprehensive assessment of the situation and of the possible measures, together with an early consultation of all interested parties, which will take time and resources. The desired timeframe seems rather too ambitious, and setting too short a timeframe for preparation and consultation could even be counterproductive. I would prefer to be less prescriptive in terms of deadlines. However, I can assure honourable Members that my department will undertake to complete the plan of action at the earliest possible date.”