Shark finning laws: Conservatives bite back

Pressure placed on European Commission to bring forward legislation

Strasbourg, 29th September 2006 -- Europe's feeble shark finning regulations are now more likely to be tightened, despite attempts by the Spanish MEPs and the European Parliament's fisheries committee to relax them, the Conservative fisheries team in Strasbourg, said today.

Shark finning is the practice where fishermen cut the fins of a shark and throw the rest of the shark back in the water - often while still alive. The practice has officially been illegal since 2003 but the high value of shark fins and the poor enforcement of the ban make the rewards of finning far greater than the risks.

Scientists agree that the most effective way to implement a shark finning ban is to require that sharks are landed whole with fins still attached. However, in order to grant fishermen flexibility to store fins and carcasses separately, most of the world's finning bans are enforced through a fin to carcass ratio. Current EU regulations state that fins must not exceed five percent of the total shark landed. In theory, this should avoid sharks being thrown back finless by requiring all of the corresponding carcasses to be landed.

Spanish MEPs and the Parliament's fisheries committee had proposed raising this ratio to 6.5 percent, which would have allowed fishermen to throw back two in three sharks without fins and face little or no penalty. Conservative MEPs submitted a cross-party amendment to bring this ratio right down to two percent - the average weight of a shark fin. This would be far more effective at ensuring that every shark caught would have to be landed.

Sir Robert Atkins MEP, Conservative Deputy Leader in the European Parliament, said:

"At a time when the leading experts in the world are telling us that species like the Blue shark are vulnerable, the Spanish fleet is trying to find ways to kill more of them. This trade is lucrative and the rewards far outweigh the risks fishermen take by breaking the law.

"Around a third of the 130 shark species in Europe are threatened and another 20 percent are in immediate danger of joining them. Sharks are vulnerable to fishing because they reproduce much later in life, and they have few young. The loss of shark species in our oceans would upset the whole ecosystem."

Sir Robert continued:

"The practice of shark finning is cruel and wasteful. Often sharks are thrown back alive and left to a miserable death. Unfortunately, sharks have an image problem that means they have few sympathisers outside the conservationist community.

"When debating this issue with the European Commissioner, he suggested he would look favourably on tightening up the loopholes in the finning regulations. It is up to the Commission to bring forward a strict legislative proposal that will give our shark populations a chance to recover. Fishermen should be able to fish sharks, but we must do so in a way that puts conservation above profit."

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