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Europe

Brussels Wants EU Governments To Protect Their Sharks

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) says EU plans to limit science-based fishing limits, protect endangered species and a strong finning ban for some of Europe's most vulnerable and neglected animals, lacks teeth.

Shark

Shark on a plate?

Most people do not associate sharks with Europe -- "Jaws" was filmed near Cape Cod, Massachusetts, not in Portugal. But sustained demand for fins from Asia, and a growing appetite for shark meat back home are placing many European cousins of the Great White on the path of extinction.

As Joe Borg, the European Union's fisheries commissioner, put it: "Many people associate sharks with going to the cinema, more than with beaches or restaurants. But the latest information we have confirms that human beings are now a far bigger threat to sharks than sharks ever were to us."

On Thursday, the European Union's executive in Brussels launched a series of proposals designed to help rebuild depleted shark stocks in European waters.

These involve reducing catches, increasing scientific research and stepping up controls. EU fleets fish about 100,000 tonnes of shark each year, about an eighth of the world's total catches.

Europe providing fins for Asia

Dried shark fin

A third of all shark fins exported to Hong Kong come from Europe

Shark fin is considered a delicacy in Asia and can retail for anything between $1,000 and $10,000 per kilogram in China. A third of all the fins exported to Hong Kong, the world's biggest importer, come from Europe, according to the Shark Alliance -- an international coalition of about 60 conservationist organizations.

Most of the European fins which arrive in Asia are fished by Spanish, French, British, Italian and Portuguese fleets.

Meanwhile, more and more Europeans find themselves eating shark meat, whether knowingly or not. It is used to prepare "Schillerlocken" in Germany and Portuguese "Caldeirada" stew, but it can also be found in British fish-and-chip shops.

Within EU waters, most fishing takes place in the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. But there is also considerable activity in the Mediterranean Sea.

Limits on the amounts of catches are already in place, and "finning" -- the practice of removing the fins and discarding the rest of the shark at sea -- is illegal in the EU. But slack controls mean that of the about 180 species found in Europe, a third are now threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

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