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Limiting EU Shark Catch

The Issue

Under the current EU Common Fisheries Policy, catch limits for fishermen, in the form of total allowable catches (TACs) or full prohibitions on retention, are proposed by the European Commission and agreed by the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers. All commercially important fish are supposed to be managed and all depleted species are meant to have recovery plans. EU fishery managers are provided with scientific advice based on the work of scientists from the International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES). Catch limits are set annually for most fish populations and every two years for deep-sea species.

The EU is gradually protecting more threatened shark and ray species and bringing more shark and ray species under quotas. These regulations, however, have come late and do not all cover the full ranges of threatened species. Much EU shark fishing remains unregulated.

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Through the EU Shark Action Plan, and in more general commitments, the European Commission has pledged to end overfishing of sharks and set fishing limits in a more precautionary manner, based on scientific advice. The Plan, which has been endorsed by the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers, also calls for a reduction in bycatch and the limiting of fishing to protect endangered species.

Progress since 2006

In December 2006, the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers rejected a proposal from the European Commission to limit catch of porbeagle sharks at 240 tonnes (t) and left the fishery unregulated. Ministers agreed to reduce the TAC for spurdog in the North Sea by 20 percent and established another spurdog TAC (2,828t) for other parts of the northeast Atlantic, starting in 2007. These measures fell far short of the ICES advice for no fishing on either species.

In late 2006, the EU Fisheries Council also prohibited the fishing, retaining, transshipping and landing of basking and white sharks, following their listing under the Convention on Migratory Species.

The first reductions in TACs for exceptionally vulnerable deep-sea sharks came into effect in January 2007, in line with a previous EU Fisheries Council agreement to phase out fishing of these species.

In December 2007, the Fisheries Council set the first EU TAC for Atlantic porbeagle sharks at 581t (substantially higher than the 422t proposed by the Commission) for 2008. Ministers also reduced the 2008 TACs for Atlantic spurdog, skates and rays by 25 percent, as proposed by the Commission.

The Council further reduced the deep-sea shark TAC in November 2008.

In December 2008, the EU Fisheries Council failed to heed Commission advice to close porbeagle and spurdog fisheries and instead reduced TACs by 25 percent and 50 percent, respectively. Ministers balanced this reckless decision with agreements to ban retention and mandate careful release of common skates, angel sharks, undulate rays, and white skates, starting in 2009.

In December 2009, the Fisheries Council agreed both to end fishing for porbeagle sharks in the Atlantic through a zero TAC and to effect a ban on EU vessels taking the species from international waters. Ministers also reduced spurdog fishing quotas by 90 percent, starting in 2010.

In November 2010, the Council adopted a Commission proposal to add four species to the deep-sea shark fishery closure (frilled shark, six-gill shark, sailfin roughshark and knifetooth dogfish) and finally set the deep-sea shark TAC at zero, starting in 2012.

In December 2010, the Council followed through on a commitment to set the spurdog TAC at zero, maintained the porbeagle fishery closure for 2011, reduced quotas for skates and rays, limited longline fishing for tope sharks, and protected Atlantic (but not Mediterranean) guitarfish.

In August 2011, the European Commission proposed extending the porbeagle measures to all EU waters, including those in the Mediterranean.


European Shark Week is calling on the European Commission to propose and the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers to support:

  • continuation of current protections for porbeagle, spurdog, and deep-sea sharks;
  • comprehensive recovery plans for these species;
  • continuation of existing prohibitions on retaining basking sharks, white sharks, angel sharks, common skates, white skates, and undulate rays;
  • new EU water and vessel prohibitions on retention and sale of all unprotected EU shark and ray species listed by the IUCN as Endangered and Critically Endangered, including great and scalloped hammerhead sharks, sawback and smoothback angel sharks, Maltese skates, giant devil rays, and sawfishes;
  • inclusion of the exceptionally vulnerable lowfin gulper shark under EU deep-sea shark measures;
  • new EU TACs for increasingly targeted blue sharks, shortfin makos, smoothhounds, catsharks, and chimaeras;
    extension of existing EU shark and ray measures to include all EU waters of the species’ ranges, including the Mediterranean;
  • extension of international protections adopted through Regional Fishery Management Organisations for oceanic whitetip and thresher sharks to all EU waters and all EU vessels.

EU Shark Conservation: Recent Progress and Priorities for Action (pdf)
> Shark Fins in Europe: Implications for the Finning Ban (report/pdf)
> Closing the Loopholes on Shark Finning (briefing/pdf)
> Safeguarding Sharks (report/pdf)



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