asked Her Majesty's Government:
What assessment they have made of the likely impact on the marine environment following the warning by Sarah Fowler, co-chair of the World Conservation Union Species Survival Commission's Shark Specialist Group, that a third of the 450 shark species are threatened with extinction because of increasing international demand for shark fin food products; and [HL1667]
Whether they will discuss with European Union, Commonwealth and United Nations partners the threat to the marine environment of the possible extinction of a third of shark species; and [HL1669]
Whether they have any plans to initiate an education programme to expose the threat to the survival of a third of the 450 shark species in order to reduce the demand for shark fin soup and other products. [HL1670]
Defra is regularly involved in meetings and negotiations at EU level, as well as globally, that have sought to address threats to shark conservation.
The illegal fishing of sharks for fins is a major threat to shark species. As a response to international concerns over the sustainability of shark fisheries, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) produced a voluntary action plan for the conservation and management of sharks. As the European Commission has competence on fisheries measures it has signed up to the plan on behalf of the UK and all other EU member states. As part of the commitment to implement the plan, the EU has already adopted a regulation outlawing the practice of removing sharks' fins on EU vessels and in EU waters.
The UK is active in its support for international agreements that seek to control international fishing activities. My honourable friend the Minister of State for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare (Ben Bradshaw) was the Chair of the High Seas Task Force on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, which produced its final report this year. The UK is actively implementing the proposals of the high seas task force in order to help identify and eliminate illegal fishing activity including the lucrative trade in shark products.
Furthermore, the UK has been instrumental in listing certain species (such as the basking shark) on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Convention for Migratory Species (CMS) to afford them better protection. The UK has supported the European Union's proposal that the listing of porbeagle and spiny dogfish sharks be considered at the forthcoming CITES Conferences of the Parties in June 2007. Following the CMS listing, the UK has been working with CMS and the Governments of Australia and the Seychelles to develop an international instrument to conserve migratory species of sharks. A meeting of government officials from range states and other interested parties, to consider this further, is likely to take place towards the end of the year.
The Far East is the main destination market for shark fins and the demand is ever-increasing due to the increased wealth of the population, particularly in China. Through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and during bilateral meetings between government officials and Ministers, we regularly raise the subject of shark conservation and the detrimental impact on shark species directly as a result of the demand for products such as shark fin.
The European Commission has competence in this area under the Common Fisheries Policy. Council Regulation (EC) No. 1185/2003 controls the removal of fins from sharks onboard vessels. In December 2006, the Commission published a report on the operation of the regulation. The report concluded that the regulation is achieving its general objectives and that further amendments were not necessary.
Since sharks are taken as a bycatch in many fisheries, it would be impossible to prevent all catches. The most effective way of conserving sharks is likely to be to limit to sustainable levels, within the EU and elsewhere, the overall level of fishing for the main target species.
Within the UK, we have recently completed a consultation on proposals to stop new commercial fisheries targeting tope, a species of large coastal shark.