Scientists have warned that blue and mako sharks that migrate to and from British waters are frequently running into Spanish and Portuguese fishing fleets in the Northern Atlantic, putting the species at serious risk.
Between 3 and 4 million creatures crossing the Atlantic get caught by Iberian fishermen’s 100 km-long longlines, which are equipped with 1,200 baited hooks. This is according to scientists who have tagged 100 individuals in order to track their route and habits.
David Sims, professor of marine ecology at Plymouth’s Marine Biological Association (MBA) which led the research, said, “We found that the sharks are congregating where warm and cool currents meet. These are highly productive areas that attract fish and that attract sharks, too.
“However, it also attracts fishing vessels and we found many longlines laid in exactly the places where sharks concentrate. It is a wall of death for sharks.”
The practice of shark fishing, currently unregulated in the EU, can drive many species to extinction, as the creatures can take several years to reach sexual maturity.
It is already estimated that almost 100 million sharks are killed worldwide, mostly in response to the demand from some Asian countries, where shark meat and fins are consumed.
Sharks are usually considered as bycatch – fish or other species that are caught unintentionally by fishermen – but tuna and swordfish stocks declining to dangerously low levels, many European fleets have started to catch them deliberately. Spain is said to be responsible for around 80% of shark fishing within the EU.
Sims added, “These are awe-inspiring animals but it is open season on sharks. We should hit the panic button right now rather than in 10 years’ time when it could be too late.”
Photo: Robert Engberg via flickr