After fisheries officials fail, environmental obligations offer hope for 2021 landings crack down

Brussels. December 21, 2020. Conservationists are closing the year with hope for endangered North Atlantic shortfin mako sharks as EU level decisions point to unprecedented 2021 limits for some of the world’s top mako fishing countries, particularly Spain and Portugal. Just after the European Commission blocked an international North Atlantic ban and proposed excessive EU mako quotas, EU Member State scientists reviewing mako obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) have issued an opinion that points to EU Member States banning North Atlantic shortfin mako imports, including those introduced from the high seas by EU fishing vessels.

“At long last, the mako conservation commitments made by the EU under environmental treaties are beginning to have an effect where it really counts: the fisheries arena,” said Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust. “The findings of the EU’s CITES Scientific Review Group align with repeated dire warnings from international fishery scientists, amplifying the need to immediately ban both trade and landing of sharks from this exceptionally imperiled population. We call on the European Commission and individual Member States to abide by this key finding and suspend mako imports by January 1st.”

Shortfin makos are particularly valuable sharks, sought for meat, fins, and sport. Slow growth makes them exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing. Makos are fished by many nations around the globe yet not subject to international fishing quotas.

Scientists have long warned that the seriously overfished North Atlantic shortfin mako population is headed for collapse and could take five decades to recover, even if fishing were to stop immediately. Lack of consensus has allowed unsustainable fishing on this shared population to continue. In recent years, the EU has played a lead role in blocking a multilateral, science-based proposal for a ban on North Atlantic shortfin mako landings through the International Commission for Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) while also proposing the species for listing under CITES.

The EU Scientific Review Group (SRG) “negative opinion” for import of North Atlantic makos reflects the risk that imports pose to the conservation status of this already depleted population. Under the 2019 CITES Appendix II listing, landings of mako sharks caught on the high seas (outside the 200-mile EU zone) are considered imports. EU fleets, primarily from Spain, are responsible for more than half of shortfin mako landings from the North Atlantic. In 2018, only 10% of EU landings from this population were reportedly taken from domestic waters (124t of 1276t).

“Given that the EU is the main culprit for North Atlantic shortfin mako overfishing and the vast majority of their landings are considered imports, this decision by the EU SRG could take a significant bite out of mako mortality and greatly improve the outlook for this beleaguered population,” said Ian Campbell, Associate Director of Policy and Campaigns for Project AWARE.

Meanwhile, the European Commission proposed to the December Fisheries Council establishing the first-ever EU Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for North Atlantic shortfin makos at 288t, despite ICCAT scientists’ advice for a complete retention ban.

“While we’re glad that the European Commission has finally recognized the dire status of makos and their responsibility to set EU catch limits regardless of ICCAT inaction, EU quotas amounting to nearly 300t are grossly excessive for this endangered population and fly in the face of scientific advice,” added Hood. “Sadly, the long history of ignoring science and allowing unlimited fishing has taken its toll, as experts from many fields now underscore that it’s too late for quotas; we’re overdue for bans on landings and trade.”