On the menu tonight: Endangered shark


Maltese consumers might not be aware of it, but the next time a beautifully cooked mazzola lands on their plate they will be eating a species of shark that has become critically endangered.

The Malta Shark Research Programme (MSRP) yesterday urged the government to adopt a national plan of action for sharks in the light of research that confirms overfishing for sharks in the Mediterranean. Around 100 million sharks are killed each year all over the world.

Researcher Graziella Cavlan said the plan should insist that all sharks landed in Malta are correctly identified and sold under their proper name and not disguised as other fish.

The public needs to be made aware that what they are actually buying might be a species listed as critically endangered, as is the squalus acanthia, better known in Malta as mazzola, she said.

The MSRP is a scientific study conducted by Nature Trust (Malta) and funded and supported by HSBC Bank Malta under the HSBC Cares for the Environment Fund.

“We urge the government to take action and help us protect the sharks from extinction and have Malta adopt a sustainable shark fishery.”.

A petition by the MSRP urging the government to adopt and enforce a National Plan of Action for Sharks, as is required by all fishing countries, can be downloaded on www.thepetitionsite.com/1/malta-needs-a-plan-of-action-for-sharks.

Research carried out by Nature Trust (Malta) under the Malta Shark Research Programme and other international research conducted on Mediterranean sharks has confirmed over-fishing of sharks.

“Sharks mature at a late age and have a long gestation period. Therefore it is difficult to replenish depleted stocks without a management plan,” Ms Cavlan said.

Although Malta does not have a plan of action to protect sharks, a plan drawn up by scientists, including Maltese in 2002, could be the basis for a national plan, she said.

Ms Cavlan said the researchers had measured around 2,500 specimens of shark, mostly at the Valletta fishmarket. The most numerous was the mazzola which consists of five species of shark.

Mazzola has a good market value in Malta. It is reasonably priced and a favourite among consumers.

“Some people don’t grade mazzola as a shark let alone know that they might be purchasing a dying breed. The squalus acanthias was once an abundant species, now it is critically endangered,” she said.

Ms Cavlan said another concern in the Mediterranean was finning, a gruesome process of killing a shark solely for its fins.

“There are laws that prevent animals being slaughtered in an inhumane manner. However sharks and fish in general don’t seem to fit the bill.

Sharks’ fins are sliced off the bodies while the shark is still alive. The shark is then thrown back into the sea, still alive, and sinks to the bottom because a shark cannot swim without its fins and it cannot survive without swimming. “This is a billion dollar illegal industry second only to drugs,” she said.

Ms Cavlan added that shark finning is not practised in Malta but Japanese boats with sharks’ fins hanging to dry have been spotted by local fishermen.

Sharks are also hunted for their jaws, which can fetch thousands of euros.

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Filed under biodiversity, environment, extinction, nature, wildlife, zoology

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