Europe Moves to Tighten Shark Protections

The European Commission today approved an action plan that would improve protections for sharks, skates, and rays. "It's an important accomplishment and a useful first step," says Ellen Pikitch, who directs the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University. The plan was also welcomed by the conservation group Oceana, which nevertheless called for more action.

Among the measures, the plan calls for immediately closing loopholes in the regulations on shark finning and determining catch limits according to scientific recommendations.

The plan also suggests increased spending on data collection about shark catches. As European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Joe Borg said today in Brussels:

"… the Action Plan places great emphasis on better catch reporting, more investment in data collection and analysis, and extensive observer programs to support the efforts of scientists working in this field."

Such data will help managers set accurate, protective catch limits and improve understanding of sharks, Pikitch says. But she's disappointed that the better reporting wouldn't begin for at least 3 years. Other actions would also be phased in gradually.

The measures are up for comment by the European Union’s fisheries ministers in April, after which they would head in the direction of being enacted as national legislation.

The general need for fishing regulations gets a boost from an analysis in today’s issue of Nature, which found that many countries have shown “dismayingly poor compliance” with the 13-year-old U.N. Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.