LONDON// UK Fisheries Minister George Eustice presented his views on uncontrolled shark fisheries yesterday at a series of Shark Trust No Limits? campaign events – part of SEA LIFE London Aquarium’s annual Ocean of Stars.

The huge turn-out tonight is testament to the importance the public place on sharks and on conserving sharks.

The work that the Shark Trust does in raising awareness of the plight of these iconic species is really, really important, these are incredibly charismatic species yet they face a number of important threats: habitat loss, secondly climate change, thirdly – and perhaps most importantly – the damage caused by unregulated fishing practices.

The third one I want to focus on: recognising the challenges that face fisheries policy makers when it comes to conserving sharks. These are slow growing, late maturing species, they live long, breed late and have few young and all of these factors make them quite vulnerable to over exploitation – and one of the reasons why the UK government, of all colours, have been right out there, at the front, saying we should have the right conservation measures in place to protect these fabulous creatures. Why the UK was one of the first countries to have a National Plan of Action for sharks which set out a coherent set of goals and actions which we will take forward both domestically and internationally.

We’ve made some important steps forward in recent years. For example in 2010 the Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) shark Memorandum of Understanding – was a very important step forward. Last year we managed to get five species of shark and two manta ray listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). These are important steps forward, and we are also trying to make progress on an EU level. It’s not always easy making progress at an EU level but we do our best and this year we have managed to secure support from the EU to get three species of thresher shark proposed to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) and at the Conference of Parties in November we will be championing this cause and making the case to get those three species of thresher added to that convention.

And to me I think one of the most important breakthroughs we’ve made is getting the requirement under EU law that all sharks landed must have their fins naturally attached. I remember some years ago seeing a really shocking documentary of the practice of shark finning which is a real outrage. A great achievement we’ve had as a government is getting that effectively banned at an EU level by ensuring those sharks are landed with their fins attached. What we now want to do, and we’re making the case of this consistently, is to get the Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs), groups like the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna to do something similar – we want to try and roll this fins attached agenda out across the world as shark finning is in my view a very shameful practice.

So I think the message I really want to leave tonight is that there’s a lot that’s been done, but there is a lot more to do and that’s why I think that the No Limits? No Future campaign that the Shark Trust is launching, is so important.

For the UK government there are two areas we are pushing. First of all at an EU level again we strongly support scientifically justified catch limits for a number of commercially exploited sharks. So within the EU we are pressing for scientific advice on a whole host of stocks including Starry Smoothhound, the Tope Sharks and also the Smallspotted Catshark. We’re also hoping to achieve more again with those RFMOs particularly when it comes to Blue Shark and Shortfin Mako – we want to ensure that on those species we’ve got precautionary catch limits in place and that the UK would be right up there in the front making that argument.

But I just wanted to finally conclude in saying this: that these things are never easy, that we’ve never achieved any of the changes we’ve done so far without there being some form of battle along the way. The government has always worked very closely with the Shark Trust and the public who feel so passionately about this, and because we are inevitably going to encounter political resistance from some other countries it’s very important that we mobilise public opinion behind campaigns such as No Limits? so that we can keep pressure on governments in other countries and oil the wheels of debate so that we can move forward on this, get the right outcome and have a sustainable future for these fabulous creatures.

George Eustice

UK Fisheries Minister