Member of the European Commission
Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs
Press conference: EU Action plan on Sharks
Brussels, 5 February 2009.
Many people associate sharks with going to the cinema, more than with beaches or restaurants. But the latest information we have confirms that human beings are now a far bigger threat to sharks than sharks ever were to us. Between 1984 and 2004, world catches grew from 600,000 to over 810,000 metric tons. As a result, many shark species are now overfished, and some are being pushed to the verge of extinction.
This is not just a problem which is limited to tropical oceans, either. Sharks have become a significant fishery for the EU fleet, too. The current catch by EU vessels of sharks and related species now runs at around 100,000 tonnes each year. Of these, more than half are taken in the North Atlantic – including in the North Sea, and a sizeable number are also caught in the Mediterranean. According to figures from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, as many as one third of the shark species found in EU waters are under threat due to overfishing.
This is bad news. Sharks and their close cousins, such as skates and rays, are more vulnerable to overfishing than many other fish, because their reproductive cycle is so long. Once stocks have collapsed it may take many decades for them to recover – if indeed they can recover at all.
That is why the European Commission has decided to adopt a plan of action that can help protect these vulnerable predators, and ensure that in so far as they are being fished, they are fished sustainably.
This means three things.
That, in a nutshell, is our project. If we follow the approach set out in this plan, then the result will be better knowledge, and more rigorous conservation measures, to protect these creatures from the deep. And if we do that, then we will also be protecting the livelihoods of those fishers who catch them.
Thank you for your attention.