The European Union (EU) remains a global shark fishing power, but its record on shark conservation is changing.
The EU’s notorious not-so-distant past – characterised by severe population depletion, unregulated fishing and exceptionally weak regulations – is now finally being balanced by recent, significant strides toward limiting EU shark fisheries and securing international protections for the most vulnerable shark species.
Long-time pioneers in developing markets for sharks, EU Member States are now also taking a leadership role in applying international wildlife treaties to sharks. The 2009 EU Shark Action Plan was long overdue, but has set the stage for sweeping improvements in shark policies. The fate of shark populations off Europe and all over the globe hangs in the balance as the EU faces its next big challenge: cooperative, prompt and full implementation of the Shark Action Plan, starting with:
These changes are urgently needed to ensure the sustainability of European shark populations and fisheries over the long term. Given the EU’s influence on international fisheries policies and developing countries, such improvements are also critical for securing a brighter future for sharks around the world.
EU Shark conservation action to date
The EU has made significant progress towards shark conservation since 2006, but there is still much important unfinished business. On one hand, the EU has shut down several unsustainable shark fisheries, established new quotas for many shark and ray species; fully protected several Threatened species; and championed numerous shark measures under international fisheries and wildlife treaties.
On the other hand, closures were enacted only after populations essentially collapsed; there are still no limits in place for the main targets of EU shark fisheries (blue and mako sharks); endangered species (such as hammerheads and giant devil rays) are woefully under-protected; and the EU Finning Regulation still has huge loopholes that make it possible to fin sharks without detection or punishment.
The EU Shark Action Plan was endorsed by the European Fisheries Council in April 2009, setting the stage for sweeping improvements in EU shark fishing and protection policies. The EU can emerge from this process as a leader in shark conservation by focusing on and ensuring implementation of the Shark Plan commitments to:
strengthen the EU Finning Regulation;
set science-based, precautionary catch limits for sharks;
provide special protections for Endangered shark species; and
propose complementary measures for sharks at international fora.