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Protection of Sharks

Jun 27,2007 SACN

Concerned for the future of some UK shark populations, a SACN member wrote to DEFRA recently and recieved this reply:

Protection of Sharks
Thank you for your email of 7 June to Ben Bradshaw about protecting sharks.  I have been asked to reply.

Mr Bradshaw shares your concern about the decrease in shark populations. 

Defra continues to work to protect sharks at national and international level.

In particular, he deplores the totally unacceptable practice of finning, where the dorsal fin is removed from the shark and retained while the remainder of the shark is discarded at sea. 

This has resulted in the death of large quantities of sharks and is an unsustainable activity. 

The UK has always been a leading advocate of the control of shark finning in the EU and Mr Bradshaw successfully pushed for the introduction of the rules which restrict the practice. 

You might be aware of a recent report by the Shark Alliance / Lenfest Ocean Program which adds to the evidence for tighter controls on shark finning practices. 

 We can assure you that we will fully engage with any European Commission initiative to increase protection for sharks which might arise from it.  

You suggest that the fishing mortality of tope is increasing due to it being increasingly retained as a by-catch, where it has previously been released back into the sea alive. 

This is so that fishermen can comply with the TAC and Quota provision which states that skates and rays caught in the North Sea may comprise no more than 25% of the total live weight of all species on board. 

This was designed to prevent targeted fisheries on the stocks. 

However, in recognition that this was having unforeseen effects, we recently approached the European Commission to secure a change so that the 25% limit would not apply to daily catches of skates and rays up to 200kg. 

They accepted our case and the new measure will apply for the remainder of the year. 

This should significantly limit the likelihood of tope being retained on board to ‘legitimise’ landings of skates and rays. 

CEFAS (Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science) is currently conducting a number of projects on our behalf to evaluate the survivability of the various species of skates and rays, so that we can consider what controls are appropriate.

You asked about the conclusion to our tope consultation.  

We are currently finalising the analysis of the results of the consultation, on which we will be formulating our recommendations for legislative proposals.

You may already be aware that CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) regulates trade in three species of shark. 

At the 12th Conference of CITES Parties in Chile in 2002, the UK led a successful proposal to list the Basking shark in Appendix II of CITES, which means that any trade in this species is strictly regulated. 

The listing encourages international co-operation in providing sustainable management for the species. 

At the same Conference, the Whale shark also gained CITES protection, also by being listed in Appendix II.

Most recently at this month’s 14th CITES Conference in the Hague, the UK and other EU Member States worked hard to ensure the success of Germany’s proposals to list the Spiny dogfish and Porbeagle shark in Appendix II. 

There is no doubt that both species are in serious decline and that urgent action needs to be taken to address this. 

The evidence also suggests that international trade is contributing to this decline. 

Regrettably, despite our best efforts, the proposals failed to gain sufficient support (a two thirds’ majority is needed) by other CITES Parties and they were unsuccessful.

The option of going for a CITES listing remains open at the next CITES Conference of the Parties (COP15) in 2010 should fisheries management measures be failing. 

This would also allow time for the practical implementation problems identified by Parties at the Conference to be addressed in a structured way. 

In the meantime, we will continue to press the Commission to take positive action on the introduction of fisheries measures for these and other shark species, in particular through the implementation of a European Community International Plan of Action (IPOA) for sharks.

I hope that this letter addresses your concerns.

Yours sincerely, 


Margaret Branson
Defra - Customer Contact Unit


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