No limits – No Future!

Blue shark, one of the targeted species. Photo: Marty Snyderman

Blue shark, one of the targeted species. Photo: Marty Snyderman

Millions of sharks on migration around Britain destined for shark fin soup. It is estimated that up to four million sharks, mainly blues and makos, are killed every year in the North Atlantic as fishermen target their migratory routes to and from British waters, reports the Plymouth Herald.

It is feared long-line fishermen from Spain and Portugal are targeting sharks as tuna catches have collapsed. The extent of the problem was has been revealed by researchers from Plymouth’s Marine Biological Association (MBA) which tagged and tracked 100 sharks and compared their movements with those of almost 200 longline vessels.

David Sims, professor of marine ecology at the MBA, said they had identified areas which attracted both sharks and fishermen. “We found that the sharks are congregating where warm and cool currents meet,” he said. “These are highly productive areas that attract fish, and that attracts sharks, too. However, it also attracts fishing vessels and we found many long lines laid in exactly the places where sharks concentrate. It is a wall of death for sharks.”

The scale of annual shark catches around the world – some 100 million – has long concerned conservationists as many species take years to mature, have a long gestation period and give birth to few young. The porbeagle shark – one of the targeted species – is thought to have decreased by more than 90 per cent since the 1930s.

However, commercial fishing, which uses baited lines strung out for up to 60 miles, is largely unregulated. “We knew shark populations have been plummeting but we didn’t know why,” said Professor Sims. “Was it fishing or something else? We needed to know how much their range overlapped with fishing boats. What we found was a 76 per cent overlap, so it is clear that these long-liners are having a major effect.”

Data from satellite tags fixed to sharks’ fins was set against information from the log books of two Spanish fishermen over the last 16 years. Ship movement data was also provided by the Spanish and Portuguese governments.

Ali Hood, director of conservation for the Plymouth-based Shark Trust, said landings of blue sharks reported by the EU fleet had tripled since 2003, with Spain responsible for more than 80 per cent.

While the EU is introducing management for some of the most vulnerable species, she said, blue shark, shortfin mako, smoothhounds and catsharks could all be caught in unlimited amounts.

“Seeing the intensity of the long-line fleet’s activity mapped out is shocking, but unfortunately does not come as any great surprise,” said Hood. “The EU fleet has increasingly focused its efforts on the Atlantic, now the source of over 88 per cent of reported EU shark landings.”