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King of Kings
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Endangered shark under attack from Cornish fishermen

05 April 2007

It's a beautiful, benign - and endangered - relative of the great white. So why isn't more being done to stop fishermen going after the porbeagle?

By Peter Marren, The Independent

Three years ago a Cornish fisherman had a rare stroke of luck. Off the coast of the county, on his 40-foot fishing boat The Prevail, he encountered a large shoal of sharks. Their streamlined, spindle-shaped bodies and characteristic pointed noses told him this was the porbeagle, an ocean-going, cold-water relative of the great white shark.

This was lucky for three reasons. Firstly, large aggregations of porbeagle are increasingly unusual. Secondly, the porbeagle is the most valuable shark in the ocean, worth around £2 per kilo or up to £500 per shark to the fisherman. It is worth a lot more by the time it ends up on a plate in top restaurants as "veau de mer". This is not a fish you can buy in a chip shop.

And, thirdly, because, despite scientific recommendations in 2005 and 2006 to close the North-east Atlantic fishery completely, porbeagle fishing is unregulated. Any fisherman lucky enough to come across large numbers of porbeagle - or for that matter any other shark except the basking shark or the great white - can catch as many as he likes.

And that is what this particular fisherman did. After a hard day's hauling using a six-mile long-line baited with mackerel, The Prevail returned to harbour weighed down with 64 adult porbeagles in the hold. Over the next nine days he caught another 63. His exploits were filmed and attracted a lot of attention, not all of it congratulatory. The Shark Trust, a conservation body, condemned the targeting of this particular shark as "short-sighted" and "potentially disastrous". The fisherman retorted, perhaps reasonably, that his catch was "a drop in the ocean" compared with the French. By all accounts it is the French that have the most cultivated taste for endangered shark.

The Shark Trust's dismay was based on a grim fact of biology. Sharks are slow growing, mature late and produce few young. Unlike cod, which lay thousands of eggs, the porbeagle gives birth to just four pups a year, and that is after a nine-month pregnancy. Allowing for the numerous hazards awaiting a young shark, this provides for a population increase of between 5 and 7 per cent per year. Once you factor in fishing pressure from fast modern vessels equipped with long-lines or vast seine nets, the shark is sunk. Far more are caught than can be replaced.

Last August, the Shark Alliance, an international coalition of NGOs concerned with the marine environment, published a dossier on European sharks. Based on catch data from fishing fleets, the figures tell their own story. Norway once operated a targeted fishery for porbeagle which peaked at 6,000 tons in post-war years. By 1960 the fishery had collapsed; in recent years, Norwegian vessels have landed an average of just 20 tons. Danish catch rates have similarly fallen from 1,500 tons in the 1950s to just 50 tons recently. French fleets were catching over 1,000 tons as recently as 1979, but by the 1990s this had shrunk to 300 to 400 tons despite the ongoing demand and improvements in fishing technology.

On top of that, unknown numbers of porbeagle are being taken by Taiwanese, Korean and Japanese long-line vessels. "We know that porbeagle meat goes into the international trade," says Sonja Fordham, policy director of the Shark Alliance. "But it is difficult to quantify it because customs data records it simply as 'shark meat' or 'shark'." The Shark Alliance is in a quandary. "If the porbeagle was listed on Cites [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species] then fisheries would have to supply trade data," says Sonja. "But we need better trade data to bolster the justification for listing." It's a catch-22.

The regulation of commercial fishing is based on stock assessment. In Canadian coastal waters, where the porbeagle fishery is regulated, reliable stock data indicates a decline to 11 per cent of the former level. The recent annual catch has been around 180 tons, less than the total allowable catch, which means that the fishery has effectively collapsed. In the North-east Atlantic the data is less complete but enough to indicate that landings have decreased by 85 per cent since the 1930s.

Meeting in Oxford to discuss the global plight of migratory, open-sea sharks, the Shark Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) agreed that practically every species of large shark found in European waters was heading for extinction. The group proposed radical changes to the IUCN's red list of threatened species. The porbeagle is now considered critically endangered in European and North-east Atlantic waters. Even the "common" thresher shark is now considered globally vulnerable, meaning that we could be the last generation to witness this shark leaping from the sea like a dolphin.

The problem is entirely man-made. "Despite mounting threats and evidence of decline, there are no international catch limits for open-sea sharks", said Sonja Fordham. We are blindly fishing them into oblivion. As far as the North-east Atlantic and the Mediterranean are concerned, the solution is in the hands of the European Union which has powers to impose regulation throughout the area. Indeed, pressed by the mounting evidence of declining stocks of porbeagle, and calls for a fishery closure by the scientists tasked with fishery management advice, the EU commissioner did eventually agree to act.

The EU regulates fishing by means of a Total Allowable Catch, known as a TAC. Last year the EU Fisheries Council was at least able to agree on the size of the TAC - an annual EU quota of 174 tons. This received faint praise from shark specialists, who would have preferred a total ban to give stocks a chance to recover. Nevertheless, the prospect of a management plan based on principles of sustainability - something that shark fisheries lack - offered a solution. According to the Fisheries Council's press release last December, the TAC on porbeagle was adopted.

Except that it wasn't. It transpired that the proposal had been torpedoed at the last minute by EU Fisheries ministers. The argument, it seems, fell apart on a technicality. TACs are made to conserve stocks, but the porbeagle had become too depleted to warrant a TAC. Behind the wordplay conservationists strongly suspect intervention by France and Spain. Despite growing public concern, it seems the EU Commission was swayed more by self-interested fishing lobbies than the arguments of conservationists and scientists.

In the danger zone

PORBEAGLE SHARK

Type: Fast, powerful shark, closely related to the great white, but smaller and feeding solely on fish and squid.

Threats: Unregulated long-line fisheries. High demand as the world's most expensive shark meat. Inshore population exhausted.

Status: Critically endangered in North-east Atlantic and Mediterranean.

SHORTFIN MAKO

Type: World's fastest shark - but not as fast as modern fishing boats.

Threats: Over-fishing, especially by Spanish tuna vessels. Global catches doubled since 1990.

Status: Vulnerable in North-east Atlantic, critically endangered in Mediterranean.

BLUE SHARK

Type: Sleek, wide-ranging blue-grey shark. Regularly crosses the Atlantic.

Threats: Declines of 50 to 70 per cent in North Atlantic since 1990. No European or international catch restrictions.

Status: Vulnerable in the North Atlantic. "Near threatened" globally.

COMMON THRESHER SHARK

Type: Unmistakable scythe-like tail almost as long as body.

Threats: Caught mainly as by-catch one long-lines.

Status: Common no more. Considered vulnerable globally.

SPINY DOGFISH OR SPURDOG

Type: Small, slender shark with spiny fin.

Threats: Huge demand as "rock salmon" in fish-and-chip shops.

Status: Once the world's most common shark, now critically endangered in North-east Atlantic.

be a very long time if ever u see them in that large numbers:uhuh:
 

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Peter Marren picks some emotive words and is selective in his use of the facts.
That's expected as it is a newspaper article. Pity it's selecting one smalltime inshore fisherman as the 'fall guy' to focus peoples attention on.
Suppose it's easier to hurt some poor local guy than look at where the greatest damage is being done. As I understand it the 'bycatch' of the far eastern long line fishing fleets is by far the major problem.
It is overfishing by these huge fleets - backed by their governments - that threaten these vulnerable fish stocks.
Without that factory scale fishing both local inshore commercial and sports fishermen would be able to 'crop' a few fish without detriment to the species.
Let's not get hysterical and fight amongst ourselves.
If you want to fight pick on the 'Big Boys'.
 

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True. "Death by a thousand cuts" and all that jazz.
Ok the guy did himself no favors appearing on TV; but his actions alone would not collapse the porbeagle stock; just as the emmissions from your or my car; alone would not cause world temperatures to rise, but there is a cumaltive effect.
At the end of the day, he was trying to do the best of the situation he found himself in. He (IMHO) did not deserve the threats to his family.
If the powers that be classified the porgies as pressure stock then none of this would have happened.

SS
Of course you are right, nobody deserves threats to his family, and media being media, 'picked' on one geezer, when they should really be having a go at the big boys but we can all do 'our bit':)
 

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King of Kings
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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Shaggy.

The skipper of the prevail did not steam out of harbour and see loads of porbeagles on the surface and catch them all with a 6mile lone line!! pmsl
Thats utter rubbish.
I was working on a wreck netter at the time, and our gear got tangled with some of his; so i know exactly how he was fishing.

True: Porgies congregate on and around the channel wrecks during the winter months. The pollack are spawning so there is an abundance of food for them.

True: The prevail was fishing for sharks because of licience restrictions he was only able to fish for "non pressure stock species"

True: The prevail was fishing short longlines with 30 - 50MAX hooks fished over the top of wrecks baited with whole mackerel.

True: The vast majority of the fish caught were immature fish. Not large mature fish.

True: The skipper stopped fishing the sharks after recieving death threats towards him and his family.That was 3 years ago. As far as i'm aware no uk vessels have been targetting sharks since.

His effort alone was a drop in the ocean. I have pictures of 150 porbeagles landed as bycatch by a single boat after a couple of days fishing.

I whole heartidly agree that vessels should not allow to deliberatly target porbeagles. BUT those caught as bycatch must be allowed to be landed rather than being numped back into the sea. However this small amount is enough to keep the market for the species alive which is a down point.


SS
it just proves how much a small boat can have a big impact on there numbers,like u said other bigger boats catch they as by catch not any easy way to deal with that either put they back to die or take them to market and next too nothing for them:uhuh: they are trouble need more protection and no there people on there who targeting them which ok as long go back in to bred help keep the numbers up,there plenty of boats out there who go after blue's shark tag them relise them which good beacause then u can tell how many there are.as for threats thats not way forward,people need use common sencse and then they would hopefully there numbers would increses.shaggy
 

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Peter Marren picks some emotive words and is selective in his use of the facts.
That's expected as it is a newspaper article. Pity it's selecting one smalltime inshore fisherman as the 'fall guy' to focus peoples attention on.
Suppose it's easier to hurt some poor local guy than look at where the greatest damage is being done. As I understand it the 'bycatch' of the far eastern long line fishing fleets is by far the major problem.
It is overfishing by these huge fleets - backed by their governments - that threaten these vulnerable fish stocks.
Without that factory scale fishing both local inshore commercial and sports fishermen would be able to 'crop' a few fish without detriment to the species.
Let's not get hysterical and fight amongst ourselves.
If you want to fight pick on the 'Big Boys'.
while that may be true on a global scale, it is very evident that local fishing can make Porbeagle rare indeed for a local area ..... for a decade and more.
Look what happened to the IoW and Padstow porbeagle fisheries - and that was just rod & line fishing.

In fact, in the case of the IoW "we" fished it out in the 70s/80s, didn't bother fishing again (after quite few blank years in the late 80s) until the mid 90s and fished it out again so they are rare there and will be until 2010+ or 2015+
 

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while that may be true on a global scale, it is very evident that local fishing can make Porbeagle rare indeed for a local area ..... for a decade and more.
Look what happened to the IoW and Padstow porbeagle fisheries - and that was just rod & line fishing.

In fact, in the case of the IoW "we" fished it out in the 70s/80s, didn't bother fishing again (after quite few blank years in the late 80s) until the mid 90s and fished it out again so they are rare there and will be until 2010+ or 2015+
That may be right - but I feel the porbeagle as a pelagic species are vulnerable over the large area they may range.
The Norwegian fishery for them has gone through periods when there have been large catches and periods when the fishery was abandoned as the fishing declined. These stocks seemed to recover when the commercial fishing pressure was reduced.
I wonder if that situation had a greater bearing on porbeagle catches around UK than local angling pressure.
That is not really something that we can answer - so of course we should attempt to conserve sharks passing through our area.
I still feel that unless the 'bycatch' of the factory style longlining industry is avoided the shark numbers may not recover.
That will take a lot of international pressure - and I just cannot see it happening.
 
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