Press releases 2021

Experts, NGOs and retailers jointly call for urgent rethink from Marine Stewardship Council on shark finning

  • Stakeholders including from NGOs, the seafood supply chain and retailers including M&S (UK), Migros (Switzerland) and Woolworths (South Africa) have written to the Marine Stewardship Council ahead of its upcoming Board meeting to urge rethink on shark finning.
  • The signatories call on MSC to require a ‘Fins Naturally Attached’ policy without exemptions for all certified fisheries, in line with global best practice.
  • The signatories express concerns regarding the weaker proposal currently being deliberated on by MSC, which would continue to allow exemptions – “an industry-friendly rebranding of the status quo with very limited ability to drive change on the water”

London/ Zurich/ Cape Town, Thursday 16th December: A group of concerned stakeholders, from the NGO, retail and supply sectors recently wrote jointly  to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to request the organization to urgently rethink its proposals on shark finning. The letter comes ahead of the final stages of MSC’s ongoing five-yearly Fisheries Standard Review process, for which shark finning is one of the topics on the agenda.

The letter notes the signatories’ long-standing and serious concerns about MSC’s requirements regarding shark finning. Specifically, the stakeholders denounce MSC’s inability to deliver on its stated policy of ‘zero tolerance’ towards shark finning and its failure to introduce a Fins Naturally Attached (FNA) requirement, in line with globally acknowledged best practice for preventing shark finning.

Legal opinion: EU violates UN Fish Stock Agreement

Brussels determined to continue catching endangered and protected mako sharks

Brussels / Zurich / Munich, November 11, 2021. A few days before the start of the annual meeting of the regional fishery management organization ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas), a legal opinion suggests that the negotiating position of the European Union violates the Fish Stock Agreement of the United Nations. The expertise confirms the criticism of the marine conservation NGOs Sharkproject and Pro Wildlife, who have been calling for an immediate retention ban for mako sharks in the North Atlantic. The (digital) ICCAT conference will negotiate the future of mako sharks in the Atlantic between November 15th and 23rd.

In their legal opinion, lawyers from the Universities of Leeds Beckett, Hamburg and Oxford conclude that the EU's opposition to a retention ban for mako sharks (i.e., no bycatch can be retained and landed any more) falls short to comply with the precautionary approach of the UN Agreement on Fish Stocks *. Since 2017, the Scientific Committee of ICCAT has been recommending a complete and immediate retention ban for mako sharks in the North Atlantic. According to ICCAT’s scientists, such a ban is required if this completely overfished Mako stock is to have a realistic chance of recovering within the next 50 years. "Nevertheless, the department of fisheries of the EU (DG MARE) continues to ignore the scientific advice and instead supports the interests of fisheries by allowing them to continue this profitable business, with mako sharks" criticizes Dr. Iris Ziegler from Sharkproject. In the EU, mako sharks are a welcome bycatch in the longline fisheries for tuna, swordfish and blue sharks with both, the meat and the fins being commercialized.

In 2019, mako sharks were included into Appendix II of the CITES Agreement ("Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora"), following an initiative by the EU and its conservation authorities. Since then, international trade in mako sharks should only be permitted if there is verifiable proof that such catch does not endanger the survival of the species. In the absence of a valid Non-Detriment Finding for mako sharks from the North Atlantic, the EU’s species environmental department DG ENVI decided to ban all landings from international waters in European ports as of January 1, 2021. DG MARE, on the other hand, ignoring this decision for the conservation of species, defined a unilateral landing quota for the EU fleet mid of January and de facto appears to be determined to avoid a retention ban being adopted at the upcoming ICCAT meeting by proposing overly complex and unworkable measures. Spain and Portugal are among the largest shark-catching nations in the world: In 2020, those two countries caught 1,200 tons of mako sharks in the North Atlantic alone.

Mako sharks have been classified as Endangered by the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 2019, and the population in the Mediterranean Sea is even considered to be Critically Endangered. In a joint complaint, Sharkproject and Pro Wildlife turned to EU Vice President Frans Timmermans, who is responsible for the EU Biodiversity Strategy and the European Green Deal. "How can the EU expect to be credible in claiming leadership in global conservation of species, if it already fails its first praxis test in the negotiations for mako sharks so miserably?", states Dr. Sandra Altherr from Pro Wildlife in concluding.

* According to the legal opinion, this year's EU proposal is still not complying with the precautionary principle due to the extremely long restoration period and the resulting uncertainties for success, as well as the proposed method of calculation for such a potential retention of a still to be defined amount of bycatch. The authors note that the calculation relies on mortality data that are either not available or inadequate. They therefore recommend the implementation of a temporary retention ban at least until 2035, or even better until 2045 (the earliest point in time a recovery of this population is at all possible). This legal opinion has been commissioned by the Sustainable Fisheries and Communities Trust (SFACT).


Background Information

Link to the legal opinion:

Letter from Sharkproject and Pro Wildlife to EU-Vice President Frans Timmermans

Links to observer statements to ICCAT’s Panel 4: Document PA4-05_OCT

Media contacts:

Dr. Iris Ziegler, Sharkproject, phone +49 174 379 5190,

Dr. Sandra Altherr, Pro Wildlife, phone +49 174 217 5054,

Sharkproject: Emergency call from the oceans

Sharkproject: Emergency call from the oceans
At the IUCN Congress in Marseille, the shark conservation organization Sharkproject calls for a transformation to an ecosystem-based fishing to preserve the biodiversity of the oceans. In this context the organization calls for urgent measures to save the endangered mako shark population in the Atlantic Ocean and also presents initiatives to curb the global exploitation of threatened shark populations. Establishing a rescue plan for the oceans above all must be the responsibility of the EU. Introducing a Fins Naturally Attached policy as a mandatory standard in all fisheries is needed to protect endangered sharks and rays. Sharkproject also addresses the issue of countless sharks wasted for harvesting of squalene from shark liver oil. The organization proposes biotechnological production methods as an alternative to secure the demand for the lipid for vaccines, cancer therapy, food supplements and in the cosmetics industry.

Marseille, 04.09.2021 – For the last four years, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) have been discussing how to stop the overfishing of the IUCN endangered shortfin mako shark and how to start a recovery plan for the overfished stock of this species in the North Atlantic. Since 2017 the Standing Committee on Research and Statistics (SCRS), ICCAT’s scientific body, has been recommending to implement an immediate retention ban in the North and define a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) limit of no more than 2001 metric tons for the South. The stock in the North Atlantic is overfished with 90% probability but nevertheless overfishing carries on and without protective measures implemented also for the South a similar trajectory is expected there as now seen in the North.

Zürich, September 2021

Position paper on required improvements in industrial fisheries and fishing gear

3. June 2021

Seven-Point-Strategy for saving the oceans

Critique by conservationists for UN World Oceans Day: „The EU has a central responsibility for overfishing and for marine litter pollution”

Munich / Zurich / Brussels, 3. June 2021. On the occasion of the UN World Oceans Day on 8 June, the conservation charities Pro Wildlife and Sharkproject call on the European Union to follow a Seven-Point-Strategy in order to meet its responsibility to protect the seas: “The EU is a significant player in overfishing and polluting the oceans. But now the EU has promised its Green Deal and is finalizing its Biodiversity Strategy”, states biologist Dr Sandra Altherr with Pro Wildlife. Dr Iris Ziegler, SHARKPROJECT, adds: “2021 is a fateful year for marine protection: At key conferences on biodiversity and fisheries the EU will set the course, whether it takes protection of marine biodiversity seriously.”

Open Letter to the Government of the Maldives EN

Switzerland, Affoltern a. A., 30.03.2021

More shark protection, not less.

Dear Mr. President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih,
Dear members of the government,

Sharkproject is an internationally active marine and shark conservation organisation that has been
working closely with partners from environmental protection organisations as well as tourism providers

in the Maldives for many years. Our common concern is the protection of the oceans and a sustainable
and successful tourism that reconciles the interests of nature with those of its people and the economy.[...]

15 February2021

An analysis of the Marine Stewardship Council’s policy on shark finning and the opportunity for adoption of a ‘Fins Naturally Attached’ policy in the MSC Fisheries Standard Review

Executive Summary Analysis

1. Shark finning and MSC’s stated “Zero Tolerance Approach”
2. Commercial fishing and finning as major threats to shark populations
3. Review of existing legislation: Weaknesses in ratio-based approaches
4. Review of existing legislation:
Why “Fins Naturally Attached” is acknowledged as the only effective
means of preventing finning
5. Review of MSC’s requirements for the assessment and
surveillance of shark finning
6. Do existing MSC requirements reflect a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to shark finning?
7. The current Fisheries Standard Review:
An opportunity to make FNA a certification prerequisite
8. MSC public consultation in 2020 demonstrated broad support from stakeholders for the introduction of a Fins Naturally Attached policy
9. Evaluating arguments against Fins Naturally Attached
10. Conclusion
11. Authors’ recommendations: What MSC should do as part of the Standard Review to prevent shark finning to continue in MSC-certified fisheries?

Annex: Background on MSC, its objectives and potential impact

04 Jan 2021

Following the successful parliamentary petition signed by more than ….

UK citizens to ban the import of shark fins into the UK, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs has moved ahead calling for input and evidence. This call covered a series of questions to better understand the impact and effects such a ban could have on shark populations, national and international players participating in the shark fin business and Great Britain’s role in this prior to the proposed change in legislation being debated in Parliament.

Amongst many other stakeholders from the NGO community, Sharkproject has filed a submission highlighting the importance of trade bans in controlling and enforcing existing finning bans and conservation measures for sharks, both within Europe and internationally. Firstly, finning is still not globally prohibited, mostly inadequately implemented with substantial loopholes existing, and compliance is generally not or sketchily controlled.

Even those regions, like in the EU, where the ban is implemented applying the strongest existing regulations, requesting that all sharks must be landed with their fins still naturally attached to the body of the animal, monitoring of compliance with this regulation at sea and at port is generally low in most EU member states and basically non-existing for EU’s far distance fleet. Therefore, both the origin of fins and whether those have been harvested legally or by finning can’t be ensured for most shipments. Furthermore, fins from protected species have often been hidden within legal shipments, remaining undetected despite being traded illegally.

Therefore, a trade ban on shark fins in Great Britain, now that the United Kingdom has broken away from the EU and free to decide on such issued independent of EU regulations, might provide a unique opportunity for the UK to be the first country in Europe to impose such a ban on the trade of fins and thereby step up as a champion for the ocean, starting to change the tide also in Europe. And hopefully thereby could also act as a role model for other countries and the EU to follow the British example.