Shark Alliance calls on EU Commissioner Joe Borg for stronger finning ban
The Shark Alliance marked Global Ocean Policy Day by calling on EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg to strengthen one of the EU’s most important and far-reaching policies for sharks: the ban on “finning”, the slicing of fins and tossing the body at sea.
The Shark Alliance is a coalition of 70 conservation, scientific and diving organisations dedicated to improving EU shark policies, including the ban on finning.
The EU is the lead supplier for the global shark fin trade, which is driven by demand for the Asian delicacy, shark fin soup, and the EU finning ban is currently among the weakest in the world.
Species that dominate the Asian shark fin trade, such as thresher, hammerhead and blue sharks, are taken by Maltese fishermen. In 2008, scientists reported population declines of 97-99% for Mediterranean populations of these species.
“Ten years ago, Malta took bold action to protect the great white shark, giant devil ray and basking shark, and it is high time to show such leadership again,” said Sonja Fordham, Shark Alliance Policy Director.
“We encourage Malta to champion protection for all the region’s endangered and critically endangered sharks and prompt implementation of the EU Shark Plan, starting with a stronger finning ban, before it’s too late,” Fordham continued.
Nearly 60% of Malta’s 35 species of sharks are considered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as threatened with extinction. The main shark targeted in Malta, spiny dogfish, is classified as endangered in the Mediterranean.
Maltese fishermen also take critically endangered porbeagle and angular rough sharks.
The European Commission released in February 2009 the Community Plan of Action for Sharks, which sets the stage for sweeping improvements in EU shark policies, including the finning ban.
“It’s up to the Commission to promptly deliver a legislative proposal to close loopholes in the finning ban and up to Mr Borg to provide the leadership needed for Commission’s follow through on this and other key commitments to shark conservation,” continued Fordham.
“The Shark Alliance appreciated the pledge to strengthen the EU finning ban that Mr Borg made when releasing the EU Shark Plan, added Fordham. Since then, however, the Commission has been reluctant to commit to making the amendment of the ban a top priority, as urged by many EU Member States, scores of NGOs, and tens of thousands of European citizens.
“As a leader among EU Member States in national shark species protection and the home of EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg, Malta is in a good position to encourage much needed improvements in EU and Mediterranean policies for these exceptionally vulnerable species.”
Shark fishing in Malta
The Maltese fishing fleet is mainly small scale and coastal with a few large vessels operating far offshore. Primary target species include swordfish, tuna and dolphinfish (lampuka). Longline fishing gear has been used to target dogfish sharks and blue sharks. Bottom nets are used to catch dogfish, as well as skates and rays, and, at one point, angel sharks. A variety of sharks and rays are taken incidentally, as “bycatch,” in Maltese fisheries. For example, Malta’s mixed trawl fisheries for shrimp and groundfish also take marketable bycatches of dogfish and rays. Most of the shark meat is consumed fresh, locally.
Dogfish are the main shark species targeted by Maltese fishermen. In 2006, Malta reported 20 tonnes of spiny dogfish catch. In 2005, spiny dogfish ranked 6th in Malta’s total marine fish landings and first in 1st quarter bottom longline catches.
In recent years, Malta also reports commercial catches of blue sharks, nursehounds, catsharks, threshers, six-gill sharks, porbeagle, gulper sharks, smoothhounds, longnose dogfish and angular rough sharks, as well as the recently protected angel shark and a variety of skates and rays. In the past, landings of seven-gill sharks and smooth hammerheads have also been recorded. In 1987, the landing of an enormous great white shark made news in Malta; reports of its length ranged from 5.5 to 7 metres.
Each year, tens of thousands of divers come to Malta; because of overfishing, few get to see sharks.
In 1999, Malta became the first EU country in the Mediterranean to protect the great white shark; that year Malta also protected the basking shark and giant devil ray. Malta is still the only EU country to provide national protection for the giant devil ray.
Most Mediterranean sharks remain completed unprotected from overfishing. The only sharks to receive EU level protection in the Mediterranean are basking, great white and angel shark. Spiny dogfish, porbeagle and gulper shark fisheries are regulated in Atlantic EU waters, but not the Mediterranean.
There are no Malta, EU or international catch limits for blue sharks, makos, threshers, catsharks, smoothhounds, nursehounds, rough sharks, six- or seven-gill sharks.
“Finning” is prohibited for all EU vessels and waters, but enforcement methods are lenient.
Shark populations in Malta
At least 35 species of sharks and 27 species of rays are found in the waters off Malta. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has assessed 42% of 71 Mediterranean shark and ray species as threatened with extinction (classified as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List). This percentage is higher than those for other assessed regions.
Shark and ray species categorised by IUCN as critically endangered in the Mediterranean include the porbeagle shark, three species of skates (including the endemic Maltese skate), angular rough shark, shortfin mako, sand tiger shark and three species of angel sharks. The Mediterranean smalltooth sand tiger, sandbar shark, spiny dogfish, giant devil ray, and great white shark are considered endangered. Basking sharks, smooth hammerheads, gulper sharks, threshers, blue sharks and two species of smoothhounds are considered Vulnerable.
In 2008, scientists reported population declines of 97-99% for Mediterranean populations of hammerheads, threshers, porbeagles, makos and blue sharks.