As of 6 July, 2013, all sharks caught in European waters or by European vessels have to be landed with their fins still naturally attached. Celebrating the arrival of the long-awaited, strict EU ban on shark finning, Oceana welcomes the new EU regulation’s entry into effect. It ends nearly a decade of battle to close several enforcement loopholes that had weakened the previous EU policy. In particular, an exemption used only by Spain and Portugal had allowed some vessels to remove shark fins at sea, which made it extremely difficult even to detect when finning had occurred. Since the beginning of its work in Europe, Oceana has campaigned for a strict ban on shark finning as one important aspect of improved shark fisheries management in the EU.
The EU voted in favor of strictly protecting 10 threatened species of sharks and rays in the Mediterranean Sea, under the Barcelona Convention. These species, including hammerheads, tope, and shortfin mako, have declined dramatically in numbers – some by as much as 99% during the last century – while others have vanished from parts of the Mediterranean where they were once common.
For the first time in its 60-year history, the FAO’s General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean took action for shark protection. The Commission adopted measures for the management and conservation of sharks and rays in the Mediterranean, the region of highest risk in the world for these fishes. Twenty-three Mediterranean countries endorsed a proposal from the EU that bans the unsustainable practice of shark finning, prohibits trawling in some sensitive near-shore habitats, and requires countries to collect and report data on catches of some threatened species.
The Chilean National Congress unanimously passed a nationwide ban on shark finning. Oceana drafted the bill and campaigned for its passage. This groundbreaking decision came on the heels of a very similar ban passed by the United States Congress in December 2010, and puts both countries at the forefront of shark conservation.
The United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation passed the Shark Conservation Act of 2009 by voice vote, paving the way for full Senate consideration. The bill, introduced by Sen. John Kerry, would end shark finning in U.S. waters by requiring all sharks caught to be landed whole with their fins still attached. Landing sharks with their fins still attached allows for better enforcement and data collection for stock assessments and quota monitoring. The Act would also close a loophole that allows the transfer of fins at sea as a way to get around current law. Additionally, the bill would allow the United States to take action against countries whose shark finning restrictions are not as strenuous. Similar legislation has already passed the House of Representatives, led by Rep. Madeleine Bordallo.
Following Oceana advocacy, the EU and USA governments proposed 8 species of sharks to CITES Appendix II. In preparation for the CITES negotiations in March 2010, the United States submitted the oceanic whitetip, dusky, sandbar, and three species of hammerhead shark – great, scalloped and smooth – for increased protection under these international trade rules. The European Union did the same for spiny dogfish (used for fish and chips) and the highly migratory porbeagle shark. If the proposals would have been adopted, export permits would have been only issued for shark products from these species if the products could be proven to be legal and sustainable.
Spain’s Ministry of Environment and Fisheries Council committed to regulations prohibiting catches of thresher and hammerhead sharks - just two of the many shark species throughout European waters that are endangered. Following defeat of this same proposal through the international ICCAT (link9) process in late 2008, the Spanish government promised Oceana it would pursue these prohibitions through domestic legislation.
The European Commission released the Community Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of SharksFebruary, 2009
Many of Europe’s shark and related ray populations have been depleted in the past 30 years, primarily due to fisheries overexploitation by large European shark fishing fleets. The Plan of Action does include some positive aspects, including a shark discard ban and a requirement to land shark fins and bodies at the same time and in the same port.
The Spanish government, after consulting with Oceana, committed to advancing new shark legislation that would ban the catch of threatened hammerhead and thresher sharks, put in place catch limits for blue sharks and shortfin mako sharks, and evaluate the viability of landing sharks “whole” with their fins attached. Spain is one of the largest shark fishing and exporting countries in the world.
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