EU Australia Online - News & information from the capital of Europe direct to Australian businesses

EU To Protect Sharks

  • February 13th, 2009
  • Posted by Daniel Challis

The European Commission adopted a “plan of action” for the protection of sharks last Thursday (5.2.09), in a bid to conserve some of Europe’s most endangered marine species.

As it stands, about half of ocean shark species are threatened with extinction…


According to the Commission proposal, fishing for deep-sea sharks will be cut by half this year, with a total ban set to be enforced by 2010.

The measures are set also to cover related species including skates and rays, and will apply wherever the EU fleet operates; inside and outside of European waters.

The Action Plan will aim to do the following:

• Improve data collection and scientific methods on learning about sharks.
• Strengthen management and technical measures, banning areas where endangered species exist.
• Reinforce control of a shark finning ban.
• Set catch limits for commercially targeted species.

The European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Joe Borg said over-exploitation of sharks would have consequences for both marine ecosystems and fishermen.

“The plan of action will establish a more precautionary approach to managing fisheries where sharks are caught and support substantial research needed to understand the role sharks play in our oceans,” he said.

The struggle to protect sharks has been an ongoing one; the fishery has grown rapidly since the mid 1980’s driven by increased demand for shark products, especially from overseas markets.

EU fleets fish over 100,000 tonnes of shark each year and account for an eighth of the world’s total catches.


Conservation groups have both welcomed and criticised the new proposals, which will now go before the European Parliament and Council of Ministers for approval.

Madrid based conservation group Oceana said the plan was not as “ambitious” as expected.

Its Director of Investigation Ricardo Aguila, said Europe had been given a “vague document” which didn’t do justice to the goal of conservation and sustainable management of sharks.

“[The proposal has] key omissions including an integration with existing EU and global environmental measures that aim to protect threatened sharks,” he said.

But Brussels based Shark Alliance, a non-government organisation also dedicated to the protection of sharks, said the plan was a step in the right direction.

“The Plan’s commitments to science-based fishing limits, endangered species protection, and a stronger finning ban are essential to securing a brighter future for some of Europe’s most vulnerable and neglected animals,” said Policy Director Sonja Fordham.

The Czech Presidency of the European Union (while not immediately engaged with the creatures on home territory) welcomed the new measures saying it hoped for a swift protection of threatened sharks.


According to a recent survey by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), over-fishing currently threatens one third of the species of shark caught in EU waters.

Scientists estimate that 90% of all large fish, including sharks, have perished in the world’s oceans since 1950.

One of Europe’s biggest markets for shark exports is Asia, where shark fin is considered a delicacy and can sell for anywhere between A$1,000 and A$10,000 (AUS) in China.

According to the Shark Alliance, one third of all fins exported to Hong Kong come from Europe.

Sharks tend to have a slow reproduction rate; it takes decades before they are replenished in areas where they’ve been close to wiped out.


Bt way of contrast restrictions on the shark catch, for products like “flake” enjoyed at fish shops, have been blamed for an evident increase in shark numbers.

This Summer has seen a spate of attacks on people in the water.

An Australian Navy diver may have some contrasting feelings to those of conservationists in the EU, after he was attacked by a shark, probably a bull shark, in Sydney Harbour on Wednesday (11.2.09).

The Able Seaman, 31, who’d been  taking part in an early-morning counter-terrorism exercise, around 7 am, repeatedly punched the shark in the head before it would break away.

The incident took just a few seconds but the man was seriously hurt, doctors later forced to amputate his right hand.

The next day a shark believed to have been a bronze whaler injured a surfer at Bondi Beach — the first shark attack at that famous location in eighty years.

Naturalists are suggesting the sharks have moved closer in-shore looking for prey because of a depletion of food supplies, due to fishing and other causes, out in the open sea.


Czech Presidency of the European Union, ‘Brussels and Presidency out to save sharks’ (11.2.09),, (13.2.09).

Shark Alliance, ‘Sharks get a lifeline through new EU Action Plan’ (05.2.09),, (13.2.09).

Oceana, ‘Big plans but little action for European shark protection’ (05.2.09),, (13.2.09).

European Commission, ‘Fisheries: Commission moves to protect sharks’ (05.2.09),, (13.2.09).