Oceana: European Commission proposes to rectify ineffective shark finning law

Proposal to land sharks with fins attached will aid in detection, enforcement and data collection.

Press Release Date: November 21, 2011

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: mmadina@oceana.org | tel.: Marta Madina

Oceana, the international marine conservation organisation, commends the European Commission on its proposal, released today, to amend the EU ban on shark finning by requiring all sharks to be landed with their fins still attached. Although shark finning is technically banned in European waters and by EU vessels, there is a recognised need to strengthen the current legislation, which contains several loopholes that make it extremely difficult to enforce.

“By opting for a fins-attached approach, the European Commission has heeded the advice of experts worldwide: landing sharks with their fins still naturally attached is the only possible way to guarantee that finning does not occur said Ricardo Aguilar, Research Director for Oceana in Europe. “The current ‘ban’ has been of little value for shark management and conservation, because loopholes make it impossible to even detect whether finning occurs. Furthermore, if all sharks must be landed with their fins attached, it will be much easier to identify the species caught, and therefore, to gather critical data about the status of shark populations.”

Shark finning – the wasteful practice of cutting off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea – is driven by high international value for shark fins, but relatively lower value for shark meat. While finning has theoretically been prohibited in the EU since 2003, some countries grant special fishing permits that allow fishing vessels to remove shark fins on board, on the basis that they keep both fins and meat and that landed fins do not exceed 5% of the live weight of sharks caught. This ratio is among the most lenient globally, and an additional loophole in the legislation allows fins and carcasses to be landed separately, making monitoring very difficult.

“A stronger ban on shark finning will bring significant benefits for shark fisheries management and conservation, not only in Europe, but in all of the oceans where European vessels are catching sharks,” added Dr. Allison Perry, marine wildlife scientist with Oceana in Europe. “We trust that the European Parliament and Council will support the Commission’s proposal, and that this positive step will be followed by action on other important measures that Europe has committed to under its Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks.”

The EU includes some of the world’s major shark fishing nations – Spain, France, Portugal, and the UK. The largest EU shark fisheries occur on the high seas, where Spanish and Portuguese pelagic longliners that historically targeted mainly tuna and swordfish now increasingly catch sharks, particularly oceanic species such as blue sharks (Prionace glauca) and shortfin makos (Isurus oxyrinchus). More than half of large oceanic shark species are currently considered threatened.

Globally, up to 73 million sharks are killed each year to satisfy the demand of the international shark fin market. EU nations combined catch the second-largest share of sharks – 14% of the world’s reported shark catches.

Learn more: Shark finning and the EU