UK government says it will argue for “restraint on Atlantic shark fishing”

The Guardian reports, 2nd July 2014: “The UK government has pledged to fight the unlimited fishing that leads to millions of sharks being killed by EU boats in the Atlantic every year.

Blue shark in Cornwall, UK

A blue shark off the coast of Penzance, Cornwall.
Photograph: Jane Morgan/Alamy

Numerous species once widely fished by the EU, such as the porbeagle shark, have already been driven to near extinction in the Atlantic. But other species, like the blue shark, continue to be caught in huge numbers by EU boats because there are no limits on their exploitation.

“These are slow-growing, late-maturing species that have relatively few young and and all of these factors together make them vulnerable to overexploitation,” said UK fishing minister, George Eustice, on Tuesday, at the launch of the Shark Trust’s No Limits No Future campaign. “We want to make sure we’ve got precautionary catch limits in place and we are going to be right out there in front making that argument.”

Steve Backshall, Shark Trust patron and presenter of TV’s Deadly 60 programme, has swum with more than 100 species of shark and said: “The catch numbers are completely insane and they can’t be sustained. The idea that these awesome creatures could vanish in my lifetime is horrifying.” Backshall said the overfishing of sharks was an issue for the UK and the EU. “There is a real tendency for people to think the problem with sharks is all about China. That’s not true — the EU fleet brings in a massive amount of sharks.”

Between 2000 and 2012, boats from eight EU nations including the UK have reported catches of about 13 million blue sharks, 7.5 million smoothhound sharks, 55 million catsharks and 1 million tope sharks. None of the species have any catch limit. Many are by-catch from longline fishing that is meant to target tuna and swordfish and, due to a lack of reporting, the real numbers are estimated to be three to four times higher. Sharks themselves are increasingly a target, with blue shark catches trebling in the last decade, both for their fins and to be ground up into fishmeal. Globally, about 100 million sharks are killed annually.

Source: The Guardian, 2nd July 2014. For the full text, see: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/02/uk-government-pledges-to-fight-unlimited-atlantic-shark-fishing

 

Steve Backshall, who is the patron of the Shark Trust and a British naturalist, observes:

“The numbers of these magnificent apex predators that are caught are without doubt underestimated — some sources think the actual catch could be three to four times higher.

“One offshore longliner can deploy up to 200 longlines in a single set, holding some 3,000 hooks and stretching for 60 miles. In coastal waters, trawls and gill nets can also catch sharks in substantial volume. Out in deeper water, pelagic – or midwater — trawls target pelagic fish such as herring and mackerel using nets that can be 160m deep and 240m wide. Large pelagic trawlers are capable of catching several hundred tonnes of fish in one haul — which often includes sharks.

“And this isn’t just a problem happening in distant oceans. The EU is a global fishing power: of the 280,000 tonnes of sharks reported landed globally in 2012 (roughly equivalent to the weight of 21,000 double decker buses), the EU fleet was responsible for almost 40%. The vast majority of these landings were caught in the Atlantic Ocean.

“Landings simply can’t go on increasing at this rate without consequences: porbeagle and spiny dogfish populations provide a sobering example, as overfishing has so severely reduced these populations that they are now listed as critically endangered in the north-east Atlantic.

“My reaction to this devastation is visceral and emotional. These animals have been around on the planet for more than 400 million years. They have more that is unusual and fascinating about their biology than any other animal group, and are the most unfairly maligned of all creatures.

“However, the reaction must also be scientific. If the world’s oceans have had nearly half a billion years with sharks as the apex predators, then the delicate balance of its food webs must rely on their presence, in complex ways we cannot possibly predict.

“Lose the sharks, the mighty, mysterious lords of the deep, and our planet’s oceans would be infinitely poorer places — and that’s why I’m supporting the Shark Trust’s No Limits? campaign, which appeals to the public to support the adoption of catch limits for blue sharks, shortfin mako, tope, smoothhounds and catsharks, by signing an online petition urging governments to act before these species follow other previously abundant Atlantic shark populations into collapse.

Source: The Guardian, 2nd July 2014. For the full text, see: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2014/jul/02/our-oceans-will-be-infinitely-poorer-if-we-lose-our-sharks

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