Recommendations on elasmobranch management and conservation for the European Commission’s Action plan to conserve fisheries resources and protect marine ecosystems
By: iSea (Greece), APECE (Portugal), Shark Trust (EU & UK), SUBMON (Spain), Sharklab-Malta, Marine & Environmental Research Lab (Cyprus), and Dutch Elasmobranch Society (Netherlands) 13 May 2021
We welcome the opportunity to contribute to the public consultation on the Action plan to conserve fisheries resources and protect marine ecosystems that will be part of the EU Green Deal strategy. We specifically welcome the 1st and 2nd objective of the strategy that focus on the need to decrease the bycatch of endangered and threatened species, as well as the need to ensure fisheries management measures in MPAs have a positive impact on the conservation of threatened species.
As organisations focussed on the management of elasmobranchs we stress the urgent need to implement the objectives the EU and its Member States signed up to in the 2009 Community Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks1 (CPOA-sharks). We call on the Commission to ensure the new Action plan has the strength to deliver much needed actions listed in the CPOA-sharks are followed through.
Elasmobranchs are among the most vulnerable marine species. A recent study published in Nature showed that the global population of pelagic sharks has decreased by over 70% in the past 3 decades2, this decline is almost exclusively driven by unsustainable fisheries. In Europe at least 40% of shark and ray species are threatened with extinction3. With little effort to decrease fishing mortality. To curb this negative trend, more effort is needed to better protect these species and to effectively manage the fisheries that impact upon them.
The EU acknowledged more needed to be done to protect elasmobranchs when it adopted the CPOA-Sharks in 2009. This Action Plan sets out management targets for that, if adhered to, would ensure European elasmobranch populations could flourish. The action plan was reviewed by STECF4 in 2019 and the conclusions of the independent scientific panel were that hardly any of the objectives had been met, and more effort was needed to effectively manage and protect elasmobranchs in Europe. To date many species still have no management measures or catch restrictions associated with them, only the most endangered species have a catch prohibition under the Technical measures regulation / TAC & Quota regulation but this is not linked to any conservation, protection or rebuilding measures.
To ensure the sustainable management of sharks and rays in Europe the new Action plan to conserve fisheries resources and protect marine ecosystems should at least include the following:
- Stock assessments for all elasmobranch species caught as target or bycatch in EU fisheries, with associated funding to bridge knowledge gaps
- An obligation to have a conservation and management plan for all species on the prohibited species list with the aim to rebuild populations to healthy levels
- EU to champion shark conservation in Regional Fisheries Management Organisations, advocating for fins attached policies in all RFMO’s, and strictly following scientific advice on catch limits.
- Binding targets for member states on the ambition for protection of essential habitats for shark and ray species in their Nature2000 / MSFD sites
The European Green Deal was introduced as a transformative agenda, a clean break with past policies that focused too much on economic gains and left little room for nature and the environment. The integration of previous species and habitat action plans into an ambitious overarching action plan fits into this strategy, and should lead to an accelerated and high ambition agenda. Sharks and rays of Europe deserve nothing less.