The future of UK blue shark angling looks a little more secure after ICCAT (the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, which also manages shark species) agreed science-based catch limits for both southern and northern blue shark stocks for the first time.
The limits cap the amount of blue sharks that can be landed and will help to prevent overfishing of blue sharks which have recovered over recent years. This has led to a thriving recreational fishery in Cornwall after many years of decline and a near total absence of blue sharks in the 2000s due to commercial overfishing.
Anglers and charter skippers have tagged thousands of blue sharks over the years in order to improve our understanding of shark populations in UK waters. Catch data from a recreational angling tagging programme in Ireland was even used by ICCAT to derive their 2015 stock assessment.
Many of the tagged sharks have been recaptured and killed off the Azores in the Bay of Biscay by the Spanish longline fleet demonstrating how important international agreements are to successfully manage blue sharks and how susceptible the UK’s recreational blue shark fishery – which brings millions of pounds in tourism revenue to coastal communities – is to commercial fishing.
While the news for blue sharks was positive the outlook for mako sharks is bleaker than ever. The EU and USA prioritised short term fishing interests and blocked calls by other ICCAT members for a ban on retaining short fin makos which are now critically endangered in the Atlantic.
Both the EU and USA undermined international conservation efforts by calling for exceptions allowing hundreds of tons of makos to continue to be landed.
To make matters worse, a proposal to strengthen the ban on shark finning was blocked again by China and Japan, despite widespread support.
Scientists warn that even with a ban on landing makos being introduced today the stock will still take four to five decades to recover meaning any realistic chance of makos being caught recreationally again around the UK won’t happen until 2070, if at all.
David Mitchell, the Angling Trust’s Head of Marine raised the issue of both blues and makos with Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies, chair of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee, at a meeting with him recently.
The Angling Trust is working with one of its members clubs, the Shark Angling Club of Great Britain, to promote and protect the future of UK shark angling.
Simon Thomas, conservation officer for the Shark Angling Club said of the ICCAT outcome: “While any restriction on the commercial capture of blue shark is very welcome, the rejection of proposals to regulate commercial exploitation of the endangered mako is hugely disappointing. Again, the short-term interests of the commercial fleet have led to decision makers ignoring clear scientific advice. The future appears bleak for this iconic species.”
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