Irish shark experts have called on newly elected MEPs to outlaw the growing shark fin fishery in European waters, following a fine imposed on a Spanish fishing vessel detained off the Irish coast.
The Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) has confirmed that the fine of €2,500 and forfeiture of catch and gear worth €165,000 was imposed on the Spanish vessel Virxen da Blanca, following a guilty plea in Cork circuit court on May 23.
The vessel had pleaded guilty to catches of blue shark with a small quantity of mako shark on board after it was detained by the Naval Service about 150 nautical miles south of Ireland last August.
A special sitting of Clonakilty district court last year also heard the vessel had 1,250kg of shark fins on board. The vessel was supposedly fishing for tuna.
Shark fins can fetch a high price in Asia, where they are used in sharkfin soup. The fins are often removed while the shark is still alive and it can then no longer swim effectively and either suffocates or is eaten by other predators.
Sharks, rays, and skates are the most threatened type of fish in Europe, and several species of shark caught in Irish waters are on the “red list” of endangered species issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Kevin Flannery of the Irish Elasmobranch Group said a loophole in the licensing of the tuna longline fishery was allowing a by-catch of shark off this coast.
The fine imposed on the Virxen da Blanca represented “just 50 cents” for each dead shark, given that the vessel had an estimated 5,000 on board, he said.
“We congratulate the Naval Service and SFPA and welcome the guilty plea, but we are calling on newly elected MEPs to close off this legal loophole and stop this barbaric practice,” he said.
“We know of nine non-Irish vessels working off this coast, targeting blue shark in particular, and using a loophole in the tuna longline fishery.”
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food Michael Creed recently said he was in favour of a “considerably lower” permitted by-catch of certain shark species.
He was responding to a case made by the IEG for action on critically endangered species, such as angel shark.
SFPA chairwoman Susan Steele said the SFPA was committed to preventing illegal shark fishing, and said it had “zero tolerance” for vessels “removing fins from sharks in our waters”.
“Luckily this infringement was detected, and we will continue to work with authorities across Europe to deter and detect any future illegal shark fishing violations,” said Dr Steeled.
She paid tribute to the inter-agency co-operation between the naval service, gardaí, and SFPA which led to the Spanish vessel’s detention last year.