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New MEPs Called on to Outlaw Shark Fishing for Fins off Irish Coast

30th May 2019
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A Spanish fishing vessel has pleaded guilty to catches of Blue Shark off the Irish coast A Spanish fishing vessel has pleaded guilty to catches of Blue Shark off the Irish coast Photo: courtesy Oceana

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 23rd last.

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 shark fin 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 seafish 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).

Dr Kevin Flannery, chair of the Irish Elasmobranch Group which is focused on protecting sharks, ray and skates, said that a loophole in the licensing of the tuna longline fishery was allowing a bycatch of shark off this coast.

The fine imposed on the Virxen da Blanca (italics) 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,” he said.

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 Dr 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,” Dr Steele said.

She paid tribute to the inter-agency cooperation between the Naval Service, Garda and SFPA which led to the Spanish vessel’s detention last year.

Asked to comment on reported new measures being introduced in relation to the protection of angel shark in Irish waters, the SFPA said that for security and operational reasons it could not go into details.

Published in Marine Wildlife
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

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Marine Wildlife Around Ireland One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with marine wildlife.  It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. As boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat.  Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to the location of our beautiful little island, perched in the North Atlantic Ocean there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe.

From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals this page documents the most interesting accounts of marine wildlife around our shores. We're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and youtube clips.

Boaters have a unique perspective and all those who go afloat, from inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing that what they encounter can be of real value to specialist organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) who compile a list of sightings and strandings. The IWDG knowledge base has increased over the past 21 years thanks in part at least to the observations of sailors, anglers, kayakers and boaters.

Thanks to the IWDG work we now know we share the seas with dozens of species who also call Ireland home. Here's the current list: Atlantic white-sided dolphin, beluga whale, blue whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, Cuvier's beaked whale, false killer whale, fin whale, Gervais' beaked whale, harbour porpoise, humpback whale, killer whale, minke whale, northern bottlenose whale, northern right whale, pilot whale, pygmy sperm whale, Risso's dolphin, sei whale, Sowerby's beaked whale, sperm whale, striped dolphin, True's beaked whale and white-beaked dolphin.

But as impressive as the species list is the IWDG believe there are still gaps in our knowledge. Next time you are out on the ocean waves keep a sharp look out!

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