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Sharks: Conservation

Volume 486: debated on Tuesday 20 January 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what proposals his Department plans to put forward at the next European Fisheries Council on measures to protect sharks and other endangered or threatened species from the impact of over-fishing. (244198)

The UK Government expressed support for the conservation principles underpinning the European Commission’s original proposals on elasmobranchs (sharks, skates and rays). At the 2008 European Fisheries Council which was held on 17-19 December, the UK Government achieved a balanced package of technical and conservation measures which discourages further the targeting of vulnerable sharks, skates and rays while also recognising the importance of avoiding unnecessary discards. The final agreed package also reflects that the UK achieved a balance between the need to conserve elasmobranchs for the long term with the need to safeguard the livelihoods of the UK fishing fleets and their local communities whose viable future depends on the sustainable exploitation of these stocks.

The 2009 Total Allowable Catches (TACs) for sharks were significantly reduced to reflect the vulnerable state of these species. Spurdog was cut by 50 per cent. and porbeagle by 25 per cent. In addition to reduced TACs, appropriate technical measures were also introduced such as setting maximum landing sizes to protect larger females and encouraging the timely release of these animals to aid their future survival and subsequent recovery of the stock.

The final package for skates and rays included a TAC for area VI and VII set at the historic baseline, but without the anticipated 15 per cent. TAC cut applied. Contrary to UK expectations, the 25 per cent. by-catch provision was only retained for vessels over 15 m long in the North sea and not in other areas. Also within this package, common skate, undulate rays and white skate caught in relevant nominated International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) zones1, and angel shark in all European Community waters, should not be retained on board. The proposal requires that catches of these species shall be promptly released unharmed.

1 Area IIa and IV: Common Skate; Area VIId: Common Skate, Undulate Ray; Area VI a-b, VII a-c, e-k: Undulate Ray, Common Skate, Norwegian Skate and White Skate