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Fisheries: Commission proposes full ban on shark finning at sea
The European Commission proposed yesterday to forbid, with no exemptions, the practice of 'shark finning' aboard fishing vessels. Shark finning is the practice of cutting off the fins of sharks – often while they are still alive - and then throwing back into the sea the shark without its fins. The Commission proposes that from now on, all vessels fishing in EU waters and all EU vessels fishing anywhere in the world will have to land sharks with the fins still attached. To facilitate storage and handling onboard vessels, fishermen will be permitted to slice partly through each fin and fold it against the carcass of the shark. The aim of the new rules is to better protect vulnerable shark populations across the world's oceans.
Yesterday's proposal strengthens the existing EU legislation banning shark finning, which allows by exemption and under certain conditions, to remove fins aboard and to land fins and shark carcasses in different ports. The Commission proposes that this should no longer be possible. As a consequence, EU Member States will no longer be able to issue special fishing permits, so that vessels flying their flag can fin sharks on board.
Maria Damanaki, Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said: "By closing the loophole in our legislation, we want to eradicate the horrendous practice of shark finning and protect sharks much better. Control will become easier and shark finning much more difficult to hide. I very much look forward to the Council and the European Parliament accepting our proposal, so that it becomes law as soon as possible"
Sharks are generally very vulnerable to overexploitation: they grow slow, mature late, and have only a small number of young per birth. In recent years, some shark populations have become seriously threatened following a dramatic increase in demand for shark products, fins in particular.
The existing 2003 Regulation on banning shark finning generally bans finning, but allows by exemption and under certain conditions, to remove fins aboard and to land fins and shark carcasses in different ports, but the weight of the fins must not exceed 5 per cent of the live weight of the sharks caught.
However, this measure has proven not effective enough. As fins and bodies can be landed in different ports, inspectors must rely on logbook records to determine whether the ratio had been respected.
Moreover, fin-to-carcass weight varies according to species and fin-cutting practices. Consequently, shark finning is difficult to detect, let alone to prove in legal proceedings. Last but not least, collecting scientific data becomes difficult, which in turn hampers fisheries management and conservation. Hence the Commission's proposal to amend the Regulation. The proposal is the result of a public consultation on how best to strengthen the finning ban.
The Spanish and Portuguese freezer vessels are those most concerned by the new rules proposed, since those countries issue most permits for on-board processing. Allowing partially slicing the fins and folding them against the carcass, answers the fishing sector's valid concerns with regard to storage and handling.
The EU has made several international commitments to protect sharks, in line with the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, and in particular under the International Plan of Action on Sharks (IPOA-Sharks) adopted by the FAO in 1999. The FAO IPOA is the basis for the 2009 Commission Communication on the European Community Action Plan for the Conservation and Management of Sharks, whereby the EU committed itself to adopt all measures necessary for the conservation of sharks and to minimise waste and discards from shark catches (see IP/09/220 ).
The proposal now goes to the European Parliament and the Council for final adoption, and will enter into force rapidly thereafter.
Oliver Drewes (+32 2 299 24 21)
Lone Mikkelsen (+32 2 296 05 67)