Overfishing has placed the mako shark in danger and the EU could do something about it, writes Francisco Guerreiro MEP.
Brussels (Brussels Morning) An international research team recently detected a decline of around 70% in shark populations over the last 50 years. This study, published in Nature, highlights the need for urgent international action on shark conservation policy and sadly illustrates, at the same time, the failure to enact global biodiversity agreements (like the commitments made for the UN ‘Decade of Biodiversity’). In particular, North Atlantic Shortfin Mako sharks (Isurus oxyrinchus) are very vulnerable to overfishing due to their slow growth and the high economic value placed on their fins.
Scientists have reported serious North Atlantic Shortfin Mako declines and have recommended a ban on retention, in addition to other measures, since 2017. Experts from the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) have estimated that this population of makos could take four to five decades to recover, even if fishing stops. Mako sharks are fished by numerous nations around the world but are not subject to international fishing quotas.
Despite some encouraging developments in 2019, when governments across the world agreed to list shortfin and longfin mako sharks on Appendix II of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), meaning that any continued trade had to be both legal and sustainable, the EU’s role in the conservation and management of the mako remains complicated. Indeed, the EU was a strong supporter for this mako shark’s listing under CITES but has obstructed in parallel the necessary proposals to ban retention for this same species at ICCAT, several years in a row.
Take a stand
I am expressing my concern about this stance of the EU concerning the endangered mako sharks and its position in the upcoming ICCAT negotiations in July 2021. The European Commission has failed to support the urgent scientific advice in the past and has blocked, together with the US, a consensus on an agreement that could end overfishing of the mako shark and start its long journey to recovery.
Without decisive Atlantic-wide protection from ICCAT in the coming months, North Atlantic shortfin makos are at risk of complete collapse, harming fishers as well as the ecosystems as a whole. In Europe, Spain and Portugal, responsible for almost all EU mako landings, have taken positive steps and introduced different types of shortfin mako bans. These recent developments could eliminate any possible obstacle for the Commission to reject scientific advice on economic grounds, and thereby allowing the EU to promote sound international mako conservation policy.
For all these reasons, I am urging the European Commission, together with 40 other MEPs, to reconsider the EU position for the July ICCAT intersessional meeting and to support an immediate ICCAT prohibition on retention of North Atlantic shortfin makos, without exception, in line with advice from ICCAT scientists and EU CITES experts.
It is time the EU supports a retention ban on this endangered species.
These views are those of the author and not the editorial team at Brussels Morning.