ICCAT: EU tables ambitious proposals to protect sharks
At the annual meeting of International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) being held this week in Paris, the EU has tabled proposals for two new recommendations prohibiting fishing for porbeagle and thresher and hammerhead sharks. The EU is also working with the USA and other members of ICCAT on a third proposal which would set precautionary catch limits for shortfin mako sharks. Together, these proposals provide an opportunity to make substantial progress in bringing the management of shark fisheries in the ICCAT convention area into line with scientific advice.
The EU proposals on porbeagle, thresher shark and hammerhead shark will, if adopted, effectively ban both targeted fisheries and incidental catches of these species, by prohibiting operators from keeping on board and/or landing any of these sharks. In addition, operators would also be obliged to provide ICCAT with information on how many individuals of these species they released alive and/or discarded dead, thus enhancing the data on which future assessments of the biological status of these stocks would be based.
Fishing for bigeye thresher sharks was already prohibited by ICCAT last year, on the basis of an EU proposal. The new proposal responds to the highly vulnerable status of all the thresher shark stocks in the Atlantic, and of certain key hammerhead shark species. The ban on fishing on all hammerhead shark species is based on the practical impossibility of differentiating between these species before they are taken on board, thus seriously jeopardising their chances of survival.
Fishing for porbeagle is already banned in EU waters. Given the uncertainty of the scientific assessment of porbeagle in Atlantic waters, a precautionary approach dictates that there should be no fishing on, or landing of by-catches of, this species until enough data has been gathered to allow scientists to provide clear guidance on sustainable exploitation levels.
The draft proposal for shortfin mako proposes setting precautionary limits for sharks retained on board and landed from this stock, based on the average catch level over the period 2004-2009. This would effectively prevent any further expansion of this fishery beyond the levels of the recent past.
All three of these proposed recommendations are in line with the most recent scientific advice provided by ICCAT's Standing Committee on Research and Statistics (SCRS).