Last week the European Parliament began its work on the Commission’s proposal to close major loopholes in the EU ban on shark finning submitted in the fall of 2011.
The European Commission has proposed ending special permits that allow fishermen to cut off shark fins at sea and land them separately from the bodies under a legal exemption to the overall EU requirement for landing sharks with their fins naturally attached.
Portugal and Spain, whose long-distance freezer vessels make up the EU’s largest shark fishing fleet, are the only EU countries still issuing these special permits, a fact that was clearly reflected in last week's Parliamentary debate.
Last October, during Big Shark Shout Out which coincided with European Shark Week, thousands of divers and concerned citizens around the world rallied to shout out for sharks and demand protection from finning and over-exploitation. Together, we voiced our concerns about the future of the world's shark populations.
"Project AWARE is pleased that the European Parliament’s work on the Commission’s proposal to close the loopholes in the EU finning ban has now begun" says Suzanne Pleydell, Project AWARE Director. "We are urging the Council of Ministers and all MEPs to strongly support the legislative proposal to end all shark fin removal on board vessels by requiring that sharks be landed with their fins still naturally attached".
Fisheries and Environment Committees Consider European Commission Proposal
Here is a summary of the deliberations as reported by the Shark Alliance*:
During the Parliamentary debate, Maria do Céu Patrão Neves Member of European Parliament (MEP) from Portugal, as the Fisheries Committee Rapporteur, started the discussion. Despite insisting that she had an open mind on the matter and was listening to all sides, Patrão Neves’ cited concerns about economic hardship, safety, hygiene, and storage to argue against the proposed “fins naturally attached” policy with little supporting documentation or specifics. Instead, she called for delay of the regulation and compromise measures.
Patrão Neves questioned why the Commission was moving forward with the proposal, apparently forgetting that she was among the 423 MEPs to sign in 2010 a Written Declaration urging the Commission to propose a complete ban on removing shark fins on board vessels. She was vigorously supported by Carmen Fraga, an MEP from Spain, who also argued without specific figures against imposing this “costly measure” that would have “major repercussions” in the future.
MEPs Struan Stevenson (UK), Vice Chair of the Committee, Raül Romeva i Rueda (Spain), Chris Davies (UK), and a designee for Kriton Arsenis (Greece) argued adeptly in favor of the Commission’s proposal. They have highlighted the large number of vessels with special permits, the biological vulnerability of sharks, and the need for the EU to lead rather than lag behind a growing number of countries effectively imposing fins-attached policies as core arguments in favor of the Commission’s proposal.
In further support of the proposal, a Commission’s representative reviewed the loopholes associated with the current regulation, stressed that there were practical solutions to all concerns raised, set the record straight regarding the number of special permits (approximately 200), and refuted the assertion that the Commission’s proposal, which has been years in the making, was “hasty”. Patrão Neves, however, was “extremely disappointed” with his response, asserted that MEPs were there to “defend the fishing industry of Europe”, and reiterated her opposition to the proposal.
On the same day, European Parliament’s Environment Committee began its discussions with a draft opinion report from MEP Andrea Zanoni from Italy that strongly supported the Commission’s proposal. Zanoni’s report received enthusiastic endorsements from all MEPs taking the floor, including MEPs Daciana Sârbu (Romania), Sandrine Bélier (France), Martin Callanan on behalf of Julie Girling (UK), and Chris Davies (UK).
What happens next?
The process to amend the EU finning ban will continue to heat up throughout the spring. In the coming weeks, Maria do Céu Patrão Neves is expected to release her working document with a proposed compromise for consideration by the Fisheries Committee. Her draft report as well as an informal document reflecting the views of the European Council of Fisheries Ministers should become public in mid-March.
Stay tuned for updates on this critical process and ways that you can help us achieve a strong and enforceable EU shark finning ban.
*Project AWARE is a steering group member of the Shark Alliance, a global, not-for-profit coalition of non-governmental organizations dedicated to restoring and conserving shark populations by improving shark conservation policies.
Photos courtesy of the Shark Alliance