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Promoting International Shark Conservation
The Issue
The EU is an active member and powerful influence at the world’s international fisheries and wildlife conservation bodies. Many sharks migrate over political boundaries and are traded internationally. Consistent safeguards throughout species’ ranges are essential to effective conservation.
Through the EU Shark Action Plan, the European Commission and the Council have committed to promoting EU-compatible shark fishing restrictions at the Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs), and to using the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) to control shark fishing and trade.

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Progress since 2006

The EU has played a role in securing general bans on directed shark fisheries through the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, the South East Fisheries Organisation, and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

Germany has long championed the listing of spurdog and porbeagle sharks under CITES Appendix II, which would improve monitoring and possibly restrict trade in these commercially valuable species. The EU proposed these listings at the 2007 Conference of the Parties to CITES in the Hague. Both proposals received support from more than half the CITES Parties but failed to reach the two-thirds majority required for adoption. The EU did support the successful listing of all but one sawfish species under CITES Appendix I, which effectively banned commercial trade.

In November 2007, at the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the EU and other Parties agreed to reduce fishing on North Atlantic mako and porbeagle sharks. At the 2008 annual ICCAT meeting, the EU unsuccessfully proposed international catch limits for mako and blue sharks as well as full protection for hammerhead and thresher sharks.

At the December 2008 Conference of the Parties to CMS, Belgian-led proposals to list spurdog and porbeagle were successful. The listings signaled Parties’ commitment to regional cooperation to conserve the species, but are not associated with concrete requirements to do so. The European Commission and several EU Member States were also active in an associated CMS meeting for development of an international agreement on migratory sharks.

At the September 2009 annual meeting of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO), the EU hampered agreement on a full reduction in the NAFO skate TAC, but did agree to a modest quota reduction.

At the November 2009 annual meeting of ICCAT, the EU was again unsuccessful with its proposal for mako catch limits and also failed with a complicated proposal that would have set an excessive EU porbeagle TAC through ICCAT. The EU and Brazil were successful in efforts to establish an ICCAT prohibition on retaining the bigeye thresher shark, highlighted by scientists as the most vulnerable shark species taken in ICCAT fisheries.

The CMS Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for Migratory Sharks was adopted in February 2010 with support from the EU, although the EU has yet to sign it.

At the March 2010 annual meeting of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), the EU won a vote on a proposal to prohibit retention of all thresher sharks.

Also in March 2010, the EU was again unsuccessful at CITES with its proposals to list spurdog and porbeagle under Appendix II, although the porbeagle proposal was adopted in Committee and narrowly defeated in plenary; Germany has contested this decision as its vote was not recorded.

In September 2010, the EU proposed halving the NAFO skate TAC, as advised by scientists, but did so in a manner that favored EU fishermen and was therefore unacceptable to Canada and Russia.

At the ICCAT annual meeting in November 2010, the EU was again unsuccessful in attempts to protect the common thresher shark. A stronger EU porbeagle proposal (for full protection rather than catch limits) failed due to opposition from Canada. An EU proposal for hammerhead protection was adopted after exceptions were added. The EU supported Japan’s successful bid to secure an ICCAT prohibition on retention of oceanic whitetip sharks.

In March 2011, at the annual IOTC meeting, the EU was unsuccessful with its proposals to protect hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks, and to require more specific shark catch reporting.

At the July 2011 meeting of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), the EU was defeated in its efforts to protect hammerhead sharks. Both the EU and Japan proposed banning retention of oceanic whitetip sharks through IATTC; that effort was successful.

At the September 2011 NAFO meeting, the EU again proposed reducing the skate TAC to the level advised by scientists, but in a free-for-all manner that would have favoured EU fishermen and was therefore not acceptable to Canada. NAFO Parties agreed to reduce the skate TAC by half the amount advised by scientists and to revisit the TAC in 2012.
European Shark Week is calling on the European Commission to propose and the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers to support:

  • a science-based skate TAC through NAFO;
  • a ban on retention of porbeagle sharks through ICCAT;
  • international catch limits on shortfin mako sharks at ICCAT;
  • caps on Atlantic blue shark catches through ICCAT;
  • bans on retention of hammerheads at IATTC and IOTC;
  • a ban on retention of oceanic whitetip sharks at IOTC;
  • bans on at-sea fin removal at all RFMOs;
  • species-specific shark and ray catch reporting at all RFMOs;
  • CITES Appendix II listing for porbeagle and spurdog; and
  • the EU becoming a signatory to the CMS Shark MoU.

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


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