EU member states should stop issuing special permits to remove shark fins on board vessels, said Fisheries Committee MEPs on Wednesday. In a report on the external dimension of the common fisheries policy, MEPs urged that global efforts to combat illegal fishing be stepped up, and improvements made to agreements with third countries which allow EU vessels to fish in their waters.
Although an EU shark finning ban has been in place since 2003, the relevant regulation still allows "justified exceptions", provided fins are removed on board, and all parts of the shark used, so as not to leave discarded sharks without fins dying in the sea. In committee, MEPs voted to delete these exceptions, and thus oblige vessels to land any sharks with their fins "naturally attached". However, the final decision will depend on a vote to be taken by Parliament as a whole in 2013, for which further amendments may be tabled.
Rapporteur Maria do Céu Patrão Neves (EPP, Portugal), nevertheless argued that the scope of the exceptions "should be narrowed, by issuing special fishing permits allowing the removal of shark fins only to freezer fishing vessels. Moreover, several specific measures were proposed for strengthening the control of the prohibition of finning, including the obligation to trans-ship and land shark carcasses and fins together in the same port; the obligation for vessel owners to hire an independent body to carry out controls in the ports where local authorities are unable to; and the obligation of masters of freezer vessels to keep detailed records on the catches".
Fight illegal fishing worldwide
In its report on the external dimension of the common fisheries policy, the committee called for the eradication of illegal, unregulated and unreported fisheries worldwide. The EU needs to set up effective partnerships with key countries such as the US, Japan and China, it said. With regard to bilateral fisheries agreements with third countries, MEPs stressed that EU vessels should not compete with local fishermen for the same resources and welcomed the European Commission's intention to include a human rights safeguard clause. They nonetheless underlined the importance of obtaining complete and reliable data from each state on the total amount of fishing done in its waters, in order to prevent over-exploitation.
Stop "flag hopping"
The committee also addressed the issue of ships changing flags to increase fishing possibilities. "I am happy that the committee has today strongly condemned 'flag hopping', saying that vessels should not be allowed to change to a flag of convenience and then immediately return to an EU flag. EU vessels must fish sustainably all the time if they are to have the privilege of fishing under the EU's fisheries agreements with third countries", said the rapporteur on the external dimension of the common fisheries policy, Isabella Lövin (Greens/EFA, SE).
The draft resolution on the external dimension was approved with 24 votes in favour, 1 against and no abstentions, and should be put to a plenary vote in October.. The draft legislation on removal of shark fins on board vessels was approved with 11 votes in favour, 10 against and 3 abstentions, and should be put to a plenary vote in 2013, after possible negotiations with the Council.
In the chair: Gabriel Mato Adrover (EPP, ES)