Fisherman key to protecting endangered British Shark populations

January 02, 2013

A project designed to help protect British shark populations, some of the most endangered species on earth, was launched today (3 January) by The Co-operative.

Focusing on ports in Yorkshire, Humberside, Lancashire and Cumbria, The Co-operative, in partnership with the Shark Trust, is working alongside the commercial fishing industry to increase knowledge of shark populations in the region and improve their long-term prospects.

Globally, shark populations have declined rapidly since industrial fishing commenced. Up to 73 million sharks are killed annually for their fins, however the true number of sharks killed by fishing fleets is much higher when sharks taken accidentally as bycatch are included. Over half of British shark species are assessed as threatened with extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Sharks are slow growing and tend to have few young, so accidental catches can rapidly cause their populations to decline.

The project will supply training in species identification to improve recording of species such as the small spotted catshark, the starry smoothhound shark and the cuckoo ray and will include a range of practical support materials such as robust at-sea identification guides. The data gathered will support sustainable fisheries management in British waters.

Chris Shearlock, Sustainable Development Manager at The Co-operative, said: “We know shark populations in British waters have declined dramatically in recent years but as little importance has traditionally been given to shark stocks compared to more commercial species, detailed information for individual species is hard to ascertain.

“We are providing species identification training with a range of support materials to ensure sharks, which are vital to the health of our fisheries, receive the level of protection they need.”

Ali Hood, Director of Conservation at The Shark Trust said: “The Irish and North Seas support a rich diversity of shark, skate and ray species, many of which have experienced significant population declines in recent decades. The Shark Trust welcomes support from The Co-operative which will enable the Trust to engage practically with the fishing industry in the North of England, working towards a sustainable future for shark fisheries.” 

Dr Judith Clarke, Chair of the North Western Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority said: “Understanding of the shark, skate and ray populations in the Irish Sea is currently insufficient to implement appropriate management measures to protect these species.

“This collaboration with local fishermen and their representative organisations to enhance the recording of catches through improved species identification skills is timely, and its aim to increase knowledge of our fisheries and is very welcome.”

Additional Information:

Shark refers to all elasmobranch fish (sharks, skates and rays).

This project sits within a wide body of sustainable fisheries work undertaken by The Co-operative. Since 2008, a Responsible Fish Sourcing Policy has ensured all Co-operative branded seafood is only selected once the stock status and fishing pressure has been reviewed with the latest scientific advice and factors such as the sustainability of the method of catch have been considered.

This strict sourcing policy has been complimented by a £200,000 Sustainable Fisheries Fund to improve the sustainability of the UK fishing industry. With this, The Co-operative has financially supported 14 fisheries through Marine Stewardship Council assessments since 2009.

The Co-operative is currently supporting the Cumbrian Discard Reduction Programme, an innovative project to reduce discards from the Nephrops (Dublin Bay prawn) fishery in the Irish Sea.

In 2011, The Co-operative Food was ranked first in the biennial Marine Conservation Society's MCS Supermarket Survey, scoring 84% and earning a gold award for sustainable seafood.  Judges praised its product labelling and Responsible Fish Sourcing Policy, and the business also won a commendation for the best Sustainability Initiative for its commitment in supporting the sustainable development of UK fisheries.

This is the second time running that The Co-operative Food has won this award, following a top ranking in 2009.

The Shark Trust
Established in 1997, the Shark Trust is the UK registered charity which works to advance the worldwide conservation of sharks through science, education, influence and action.

The Trust is an effective and well respected advocate for sound shark management and protection; a founder member of the Shark Alliance; the Secretariat of the European Elasmobranch Association; and a membership organisation which provides a link between the public and the science community.

The Trust works through cross-sectoral collaboration and where possible works with governments and industry to attain sustainable goals.  The Shark Trust advocates for effective and well enforced shark finning regulations and has been instrumental in the adoption of European and domestic policies.

The North Western Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority

The NW IFCA is the relevant body for the regulation of inshore sea fisheries within its District and has a range of duties including ensuring the sustainable exploitation of sea fisheries resources and protection of the marine environment from sea fishing within its District.

The NW IFCA is charged with securing the right balance between social, environmental and economic benefits to ensure healthy seas, sustainable fisheries and a viable fishing industry.