Sharks at risk – EU policies threaten species globally

Press Release Date: August 20, 2013

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: | tel.: Marta Madina

Launching a report about the dangerous decline in shark populations caused by European fishing policy, the newly formed Shark Alliance today expressed dismay at the European Parliament Fisheries Committee’s push for weaker restrictions on shark finning.

The report, entitled “Shark Alert: Revealing Europe’s Impact on Shark Populations,” details 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. 

Sonja Fordham of Shark Alliance member The Ocean Conservancy, and author of the report, said “The Fisheries Committee’s call to weaken finning restrictions signals a troubling disregard for some of the ocean’s most vulnerable species.  With this week’s vote, they have essentially recommended a policy for finning at least two out of every three sharks landed, thereby betraying the intent of the EU’s ban on finning and the will of the public.”

‘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.

In order to prevent shark carcasses being dumped at sea, most finning bans use a fin to carcass weight ratio calculation to ensure that fisheries are landing all the shark carcasses from which the fins have been removed and not simply dumping them overboard.  At its most effective, this calculation uses scientific expertise to estimate the weight of fins relative to the rest of the body.  The most robust calculations say this is a ratio of around two per cent fin to whole carcass.  The EU’s current regulation stipulates a maximum of five per cent and the Parliament’s Fisheries Committee has now recommended increasing it to six point five per cent, 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 Uta Bellion, coordinator of the Shark Alliance.  This is a classic example of how the fisheries and policies of the EU dominate global policy and affect the marine environment around the world.  If the EU permits this restriction to be weakened, it will be a license to fin and may well be actively copied by other nations and international bodies.”

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.  Other EU members also contribute significantly to global shark fishing and trade, including the United Kingdom, France, Portugal and Italy.

Spain is by far the most important shark fishing and trading nation in Europe, supplying as much as one third of the global fin trade to Hong Kong, said Xavier Pastor of Shark Alliance member, Oceana.  The new Fisheries Committee decision was spearheaded by a Spanish MEP and although it met with resistance from the UK, which tabled amendments, it will now fall to the full European Parliament to start turning this situation around.

The Shark Alliance is a new 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.

The report is available at


On August 28th, the EU Parliament’s Fisheries Committee voted to accept a report from Spanish MEP Rosa Miguelez Ramos recommending an increase in the fin to carcass ratio to six point five per cent, particularly for blue sharks (Prionace glauca) — the most common shark species in Spanish catches and a candidate for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Whilst a series of amendments which could result in tighter monitoring of finning were accepted by the committee, a move to decrease the EU ratio in line with the US was thwarted.

Parliament will vote on the recommendation between 25-28 September.

The fin to carcass ratio in countries such as the US, Canada and Australia used scientific advice to determine that the true ratio is around two per cent of the whole shark or five per cent of the dressed shark (head and guts removed).  The current EU limit is the far higher five per cent of the whole shark, thereby allowing many more sharks to be finned, i.e. dumped.

Shark fins are used in the Asian delicacy ‘shark fin soup’ and fetch up to £350 a kg.