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Illegal fishing for sharks and rays is devastating marine ecosystems, and the situation in the Mediterranean is worse than anywhere in the world (WWF)

WWF Press Release: Illegal fishing of sharks and rays caught on camera in the Mediterranean

EUROPEAN UNION
Monday, July 13, 2020, 07:00 (GMT + 9)

Multiple species of sharks and rays, some of them critically endangered, are being illegally caught on a regular basis in the Mediterranean Sea, evidence obtained by WWF reveals. These activities are proof of Member States’ failure to enforce and comply with  EU fisheries legislation for the sustainable management of our seas. WWF calls on the European Parliament Fisheries Committee to support increased transparency and traceability of fisheries activities when they vote on the revised EU fisheries control regulation later this year. The EU must ensure its seafood supply chain is sustainable and stand by international commitments to safeguard a healthy ocean.

IUCN Red List figures for the Mediterranean, showing shark and ray species at risk of extinction - more than half are severely threatened

A citizen scientist initiative known as the M.E.C.O project has shared dozens of social media photos and videos taken in the last few years in 11 Mediterranean countries, over half of which are EU Member States. Activities caught on camera include illegal landings of endangered giant devil rays in Spain, while white, mako and smooth hammerhead sharks are ending up on markets in Italy and France, despite being critically endangered. 

Dr Antonia Leroy, Head of Ocean Policy at WWF European Policy Office said: "There is a tragedy unfolding in our ocean because EU fishing rules are not being applied properly – these awful images are merely our most recent glimpse of it. The extinction of even one of these predators from our seas would be an unprecedented loss for the whole marine ecosystem, in turn jeopardising the EU’s €8 billion fisheries industry and the livelihoods of fishers playing by the rules. The revision of the Control Regulation is a critical opportunity to mend the holes in the net which allow such illicit activities to persist.” 

The EU Regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) has been in effect since 1 January 2010, while the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which ensures that fishing and aquaculture are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable has been in force since 1 January 2014. However, illegal fishing operations have continued to prosper in EU waters and measures such as the Landing Obligation have failed to be successfully implemented on time. These demonstrate that the EU fisheries control system, designed to ensure that the rules of the CFP are followed in practice, is failing and requires ambitious revision.


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The Mediterranean is a biodiversity hotspot for sharks and rays, with over 80 different species counted in its waters, but more than half of them are threatened and some face the real possibility of extinction. Toothless regulations aimed at conserving vulnerable populations are often not properly implemented at national level and, as this latest evidence shows, those that are in place are routinely ignored in poorly managed markets. Effective controls to both curb illegal activities and proactively support a sustainable seafood market are urgently needed.

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