Angel sharks to devil rays – the species that face being wiped out in our waters
MORE than a quarter of shark and ray species in the north-east Atlantic are threatened with being wiped out, according to the first full-scale assessment of their predicament.
From the angel shark to the common skate and devil rays, 30 types of sharks, rays and chimaeras are under threat.
The first Red List of Threatened Species assessment of sharks, rays and chimaeras shows that the number of species at risk in the north-east Atlantic – including Scottish waters – is far higher than average.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the charity behind the report, has called on the European Union to grant them greater protection.
The most threatened, classed as "critically endangered", are the white skate, spiny dogfish, gulper shark, porbeagle, angel shark, smalltooth sawfish, common sawfish and common skate.
Another eight, including the basking shark, are classed as "endangered" and 14, including the white shark, are "vulnerable".
This means 26 per cent of sharks and rays in the north-east Atlantic are at risk, compared to 18 per cent globally.
Another 20 per cent are in the "near threatened" category, while there was insufficient information to assess 27 per cent of the species, meaning many more could be at risk.
Claudine Gibson, lead author of the report, said the main threat was over-fishing.
She said species such as white skate and common skate were large, grew slowly and matured late, so were highly likely to be caught before they could breed.
"From angel sharks to devil rays, north-east Atlantic populations of these vulnerable species are in serious trouble, more so than in many other parts of the world," she said.
"Those at greatest risk of extinction in the north-east Atlantic include heavily fished, large sharks and rays, such as porbeagle and common skate, as well as commercially valuable deep-water sharks and spiny dogfish."
Sonja Fordham, deputy chairwoman of the IUCN shark specialist group and policy director for the Shark Alliance, said some were caught by mistake.
"Over-fishing is the primary factor but it's also indirect catches," she said.
"Some sharks are targeted because they are valuable; large skate and rays are taken by mistake because fishing gear is not very selective."
She said better EU protection was needed for the species at risk, and pointed out that meetings of international fisheries and wildlife bodies in the coming weeks would provide an opportunity to safeguard species through the setting of annual EU quotas, and the unveiling of a long-awaited European Community plan of action for sharks and related species.
"Country officials should heed the dire warnings of this report and act to protect threatened sharks and rays at national, regional and international levels," Ms Fordham said.
"Such action is immediately possible and necessary to change the current course toward extinction of these remarkable ocean animals."
She praised proposals by the European Commission yesterday that would see a ban on catching spiny dogfish and porbeagle, as well as new laws to prohibit trawlers keeping angel sharks, white skate and common skate if they are caught.
• COMMON SKATE Used to be numerous but it is often caught as bycatch and numbers have been depleted. It is still caught in Scottish waters, especially around the Shetlands and off north-western Scotland. Its large size means it can easily be caught from birth. It is assessed as "critically endangered".
• SILKY SHARK This species has been assessed as "near- threatened". It is often caught as bycatch but there are no population estimates and most catches are unreported. The silky shark is more active, yet less aggressive than the other two big pelagic sharks, the blue shark and oceanic whitetip.
• SHORTFIN MAKO SHARK This species is believed to have undergone a decline of about 50 per cent in the north-east Atlantic. It is often caught as bycatch, particularly by swordfish longline fleets. Due to these pressures, it has been assessed as "vulnerable".
• PORBEAGLE SHARK This species lives in many areas but has a low reproductive capacity. It also has high commercial value, which makes it highly vulnerable to over-exploitation. In the north-east Atlantic, it has been subject to unrestricted fishing. It has been assessed as "critically endangered".
• ANGEL SHARK This large, bulky shark was once common but most of its habitat is now subject to intense fishing, leaving it vulnerable from birth. Its abundance has declined severely in the past 50 years and it has been declared extinct in the North Sea. It is assessed as "critically endangered".
• DEVIL RAY The huge plankton-feeding giant devil ray has a very low reproductive capacity, giving birth to just a single pup at unknown intervals. It is taken as bycatch on longlines, at what conservation groups say are unsustainable levels. It has been assessed as "endangered".
Scottish fleet braces itself for swingeing cuts in catch quotas of 'core' fish
SCOTTISH fishermen are facing huge cuts in many of their mainstay white fish catches next year under proposals tabled yesterday by Joe Borg, the European fisheries commissioner.
He is calling for a 25 per cent reduction in cod, haddock, and whiting catches in the North Sea while fishermen will be stopped from targeting all three stocks in waters off the west of Scotland.
Mr Borg's proposals also include: a 7 per cent cut in North Sea sole catches; a 25 per cent cut in the west coast herring catch; and the replacement of the current "days at sea" limitations for cod fisheries, with a system of restrictions based on a vessel's catching power. Mr Borg said: "We have made real progress in fisheries' management over the past six years, and we are starting to see positive results, such as the recovery of certain stocks under long-term management plans.
"But this good news remains the exception, not the rule.
"There has been so much over-fishing over many years that the balance of the marine ecosystems on which our fisheries depend is seriously disturbed.
"To nurture them back to their former productivity will often mean fishing less today so that fish stocks have a chance to recover.
"I know this will be hard on the fleets affected. But there is no other choice if we want to restore the ecological basis for a truly viable European fishing industry."
The commission's proposals will be debated by the council of European fisheries ministers at its meeting, from 17-19 December.
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