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Shark Trust Patron and wildlife presenter Steve Backshall and UK Fisheries Minister George Eustice will be presenting their views on uncontrolled shark fisheries today at a series of Shark Trust No Limits? campaign events – part of SEA LIFE London Aquarium’s annual Ocean of Stars.

Shark fishing is big business in Europe, with the European fleet’s effort focused on the Atlantic Ocean, where eight EU Member States, including Spain, Portugal, France and the UK, are responsible for 99% of EU shark landings.

As an ambassador for the Shark Trust’s No Limits? campaign, Steve will be taking the plunge with the sharks at SEA LIFE London Aquarium, demonstrating that their fearsome reputation is often misplaced and that focus should in fact be on the escalating scale of unmanaged shark fishing.

“Despite the drama of the Great Whites, my favourite shark encounter by far was with Blue Sharks, a species common to British waters,” said Steve Backshall. “They are a glorious, slender, languidly moving beast, and yet, this may be an experience the next generation will not be able to share. I was horrified to learn that between 2000 and 2012 over half a million tonnes of Blue Shark were reported landed from the Atlantic by the EU fleet – this equates to approximately 13 million individual sharks. All caught with no limits.”

The Shark Trust’s No Limits? campaign drives at the heart of this issue – too many sharks are being caught without any restrictions, with reported landings continuing to increase: for example Atlantic smoothhound and Blue Shark landings by the EU fleet have each more than tripled between 2000 and 2010.  There is a deep concern that without appropriate catch limits, or relevant management, we could see other shark species go the way of previous commercial targets including Porbeagle, Spiny Dogfish, Angelshark and Common Skate – species now listed as Critically Endangered in the Northeast Atlantic by the IUCN.

Over recent years the UK government has actively championed science-based conservation and management of sharks. “It’s important to ensure we have the right conservation measures in place for vulnerable marine species and that all catches of sharks are sustainable,” stated UK Fisheries Minister, George Eustice.

“I want to see appropriate catch limits established based on scientific evidence.” 
Having previously petitioned Defra to maintain its proactive position within Europe, the Shark Trust welcomes the Minister’s announcement, and hopes other Member States will adopt the UK’s stance.

“Sharks will be caught in commercial fisheries, to a degree this is inevitable, but we can work to manage what is caught in a sustainable manner – sustainable for both shark populations and the associated coastal communities,” commented Ali Hood, Director of Conservation at the Shark Trust. “The No Limits? campaign presents a simple request to EU Member States: stand by the pledges you adopted five years ago within the EU Community Plan of Action for Sharks, and stop uncontrolled shark fishing now!” 

The Shark Trust, established in 1997, is the UK registered charity that works to advance the worldwide conservation of sharks through science, education, influence and action. Our vision is a world where sharks thrive within a globally healthy marine ecosystem. The Trust is an effective and well respected advocate for sustainable shark management and the protection of threatened species, working through cross-sectoral collaboration with governments, industry and other stakeholder groups. www.sharktrust.org

The No Limits? campaign calls on national governments, the European Commission and Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (high seas regulators) to recognise that management is urgently required for all commercially exploited shark species and to introduce and enforce science-based catch limits without delay.

No Limits? statistics: • Spain, France and Portugal are listed in the top 20 global shark fishing nations (at last ranking the UK was 21st).• Eight European countries are responsible for 99% of EU shark landings. (Spain, France, Portugal, UK, Ireland, Italy, Belgium and Greece). UK accounts for 8% of total EU reported shark landings.• From 2000-2012, over one million tonnes of sharks were reported landed by the EU fleet worldwide. 88% of these were caught from the Atlantic, equating to the weight of 82,000 double decker buses.• In 2012, of the 91,000 tonnes of Blue Sharks reported landed from the Atlantic 92% were caught by the European fleet

No Limits? species: Blue Shark, Shortfin Mako, smoothhounds, Tope and catsharks. While not the only unmanaged sharks or rays, these species are caught in rapidly expanding fisheries and/or valued by emerging markets.  Together, the No Limits? species comprise over 97% of all sharks landed from the Atlantic and Mediterranean. www.sharktrust.org/id

‘Reported landings’ versus fish caught: Not all fish caught by commercial fishing vessels are brought back to harbour for sale (the ‘landings’); many are ‘discarded’, mostly dead, back into the sea.  The accuracy of catch and discard reporting varies widely, but experts estimate that 3 to 4 times more fish are caught and die in fishing operations than are reported as landed.

The Drivers: Historically, only a few high value sharks (e.g. Mako, Porbeagle and Spiny Dogfish) were targeted for their meat, fins and liver oil. Most species identified in the No Limits? campaign were an unwanted, discarded, part of the ‘bycatch’ of fisheries for more valuable bony fishes (such as cod and tuna). In recent decades, however, there has been a marked increase in both the targeting and retention of bycaught sharks, leading to alarming declines in populations of many species and closure of some fisheries following their collapse.

IUCN Red List Assessments can be viewed at www.iucnredlist.org and the IUCN’s global shark Red List assessment results at http://elifesciences.org/content/elife/3/e00590.full.pdf. 

EU Community Plan of Action for Sharks (CPOA-sharks): http://www.sharktrust.org/en/cpoa
Ocean of Stars, is a fundraiser which invites the public to attend an evening in the company of a number of marine conservation organisations. Fundraising in 2014 is for the SEA LIFE Marine Conservation Trust – a funder of the Shark Trust’s No Limits? campaign.

Confirmed attendees include The Shark Trust, Marine Conservation Society, Bite-Back Shark & Marine Conservation, Falklands Conservation, The Manta Trust and Sea Urchins Magazine.http://www.visitsealife.com/london/newsandevents/oceanofstars2014/
Support No Limits?  visit www.nolimitsnofuture.org to learn more about the campaign and sign the petition.