Spanish government commits to taking steps towards shark conservation

The Minister of Environment, the General Secretary for the Sea, and the General Director for Fishery Resources met with directors of Oceana and announced measures related to conservation and sustainable fisheries for sharks.

Press Release Date: December 17, 2013

Location: Madrid


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In a meeting held shortly before the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) World Conservation Congress between representatives from the Spanish Government and the international marine conservation organization Oceana, the Minister of Environment and Fisheries, Elena Espinosa, promised to implement measures that would alleviate the accelerated decline that shark and other elasmobranch populations are facing due in part to fishing by the European longline fleet. Xavier Pastor, Executive Director for Oceana in Europe and Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Investigation for Oceana, attended the meeting. The Minister was accompanied by Juan Carlos Martín Fragueiro, General Secretary for the Sea, and Fernando Curcio, General Director for Fishery Resources.  

The meeting was held in the Ministry of Environment and lasted more than two hours, during which time various fisheries policy and ocean conservation subjects were discussed. With respect to the agreements made on sharks, the Minister Elena Espinosa expressed her willingness to:

  • Propose in ICCAT (the organization responsible for regulating tuna and shark fisheries in the Atlantic), via the European Commission, a prohibition on catches of all pelagic shark species, except the two species of highest commercial interest for the Spanish fleet: blue shark (Prionace glauca) and shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus).
  • For these two species, the Minister showed her willingness to accept the establishment of Total Allowable Catches (TACs), if recommended by scientists. 
  • Lastly, Elena Espinosa also showed a willingness for the Ministry to implement a pilot project to study the viability of storing caught sharks with their fins attached in a natural way, without the fins first being separated from the body, on board Spanish longline vessels.

This last point refers to the current practice of storing cut fins and shark carcasses separately on board vessels, and also of making transhipments of these parts at sea and landing them in separate ports. This makes inspection and control procedures difficult and could even lead to “shark finning”, a practice that is prohibited in Europe and consists of cutting the fins off sharks and throwing the body of the animal, sometimes still alive, back to sea. This cruel and wasteful practice is carried out by fleets from various countries all around the world. Since fins reach much higher prices than meat on the market, shipowners often prefer to fill their storage areas with only fins, throwing away the bodies. On European ships, this is illegal and the percentage of fins landed must correspond to that of the bodies, but difficulties in inspection and the practice of landing fins and bodies in separate ports create loopholes that make fraud and cheating possible.

For this reason, the United States and some Central American countries, led by Costa Rica, are implementing or taking steps towards implementing a “fins attached” policy, preventing any type of cheating within finning legislations. Spain could drive the adoption of this practice in Europe, once it is proven to not create storage or sanitary problems on longline vessels.

However, in a second meeting on this topic, held during the IUCN Congress with Fernando Curcio, General Director of Fishery Resources, and Rafael Centenera, an advisor to the Ministry, the latter qualified the commitment put forth by the Minister, telling Oceana and the other Spanish Shark Alliance members in attendance that Spain would oppose a “fins attached” policy until results from the pilot project could be analyzed. The Ministry will require, on the other hand, that sets of fins and bodies be landed in the same port and with labels that allow the different sets to be compared, reducing to possibilities of fraud.

“We have confidence in the agreements attained between Oceana and the Minister,” declared Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of this organization, “Spain, whose fleet accounts for half of all European Union shark catches and who is the biggest European fin exporter to China, could become a driving force in shark conservation with the measures announced by Elena Espinosa. This would guarantee the Spanish fleet sustainable fisheries for blue and mako sharks, the two main species caught by the fleet.”

“We hope that Spain would adopt the “fins attached” policy without delay, once the pilot project studying the implications this practice would have on fishing vessels’ storage capacity is carried out. It is difficult to  imagine that Central and North American boats can store sharks with their fins attached without problem, but that the Spanish fleet cannot,” noted Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research for Oceana in Europe.