EU threatens shark extinction as bloc accounts for 22 percent of endangered trade

Crocodile snatches shark catch away from Australian fisherman

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Shark meat consists of the flesh of the ocean predators and is known to be popular in Asia, but it is also eaten in Iceland, Japan, Australia, India, Canada, Sri Lanka, and areas of Africa and Mexico. Several sharks are fished for human consumption, such as the shortfin mako shark and the requiem shark, but also some that are vulnerable to extinction like the thresher shark and the porbeagles. Up to 100 million sharks and rays are killed each year and some populations have declined by more than 95 percent due to overfishing.

And researchers from WWF found EU imports and exports account for 22 percent of the global trade of shark meat.

Spain was found to be the world’s top exporter, sending shark meat to 85 different countries and territories, while Italy was the top importer.

The three most important bridging traders in the ray meat network are also said to be EU members.

France, Spain and the Netherlands all reportedly act as key parts of this global network and could have a major impact on how much meat is traded or what it costs.

Dr Antonia Leroy, head of ocean policy at the WWF European Policy Office, said: “Sharks and rays are under threat.

“The EU has legal weapons to defend them, but it must keep those weapons sharp by strengthening them and enforcing them better.”

WWF says that transparency and traceability are needed from the moment the sharks or rays are caught through every stage of the supply chain. 

This would ensure trade remains legal and manageable, allow consumers to make informed choices and keep endangered species out of the market.

Dr Leroy added: “As the world’s largest seafood market, the EU must not be complicit in making seafood products available that are potentially pushing species to the brink of extinction.”

Experts also warned some consumers may be eating shark meat without knowing it.

It is said to often be sold as “saumonette” in France, in Italy as “Palombo” and “rock salmon” in the UK.

Simon Niedermueller, from WWF’s Mediterranean Marine Initiative, added: “We are eating more shark and ray meat than we realise, and this is happening everywhere, including in Europe, with serious consequences for some species already at risk of extinction.

“Sharks and rays are migrating more when they are dead than alive, as their meat crosses over 200 borders, with some Mediterranean and European countries playing key roles as importers and exporters, as well as consumers.”

The study appears to dispel a common myth that sharks are caught and traded mainly for their fins and only in Asia. 

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Andy Cornish, WWF’s lead for its global shark and ray conservation programme, added: “Demand for shark fin is well-known as a driver for the overexploitation of sharks and rays, and fingers point at Asia, where shark fin soup consumption is highest.

“This new report spotlights a far larger global trade in shark and ray meat that many are unaware of.”

According to the latest assessment by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 36 percent of all shark and ray species are threatened with extinction. 

Overfishing, including both the targeted hunting and the incidental capture – or bycatch – of sharks and rays, is a key driver behind their rapidly depleting numbers. 

Yet limited reporting on catch and landing numbers and opaque supply chains make it challenging to develop more sustainable fisheries and trade policies. 

Under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the EU “aims to ensure that fishing and aquaculture are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable”.

It sets quotas for which member states are allowed to catch each type of fish, as well as encouraging the fishing industry by various market interventions.

When it came into force in 2009, the Treaty of Lisbon formally enshrined fisheries conservation policy as one of the handful of “exclusive competences” reserved for the European Union, to be decided by Qualified Majority Voting.

However, general fisheries policy remains a “shared competence” of the Union and its member states.

Decisions are now made by the Council of the European Union, and the European Parliament acting together under the co-decision procedure.

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