Friday, 25 November 2011

EU proposes outright ban on shark finning

THE EU has finally proposed an outright ban on shark finning, in a move welcomed by European Parliament fisheries committee Vice-President Struan Stevenson MEP, a longstanding campaigner against the practice.

Shark finning is the practice where fishermen cut the valuable fins from a shark and throw the rest of the shark back in the water - often while still alive. The practice has officially been illegal since 2003 but a loophole in the law only requires the weight of the fins caught to be around five percent of the total shark catch. As the average fin-to-shark ratio is around two percent, this effectively means that at least half of the sharks that are finned need not be landed.

Now EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki is proposing a complete ban on 'finning' on all EU vessels around the world.

Mr Stevenson fought off Spanish efforts in 2006 to increase the fin to fish ratio to 6.5 percent, and he has long campaigned for a complete end to the barbaric practice so that every shark caught must be landed, rather than thrown back to die a lingering and agonising death.

Mr Stevenson, Conservative MEP for Scotland, said: “Sharks may have an image problem but they are crucial to the ocean's ecosystem. The practice of shark finning is both detrimental to our marine environment and unacceptably cruel to the shark.

"Sharks that are finned often list around on the ocean bed until they are attacked or they starve to death. Many people may not love sharks but they all see the cruelty in leaving a creature to die a painful and slow death.

"The shark finning trade is extremely lucrative and the punishments are miniscule compared to the rewards. EU law and monitoring need to change so that European fishermen are harshly punished for enacting cruelty and threatening some shark species.

"When these proposals come before MEPs I have no doubt that a few countries will seek to water them down. However, we will push for a rigorous ban.

"We need a ban on finning that enables fishermen to catch sharks in a way that puts conservation and humane treatment before making a quick buck."

Oceana, the international marine conservation organisation, has commended the European Commission on its proposal to amend the EU ban on shark finning.

Ricardo Aguilar, Research Director for Oceana in Europe said: “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. 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.”

“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.

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