EU accounts for 22% of global trade in shark meat

Posted on 13 July 2021

Between 2012 and 2019, more than 200 countries and territories imported and exported shark and ray meat, for a global trade valued at nearly €2.2 billion.
Ahead of International Shark Awareness Day (14 July), WWF research reveals that EU imports of shark and ray meat have accounted for 17.3% of global transactions since 2000. Spain is the world’s top exporter, while Italy is the top importer. Today, 36% of the more than 1,200 known shark and ray species are threatened with extinction [1].

EU exports and imports account for around 22% of the total global shark meat trade, while the top three most important bridging traders in the ray meat network are EU Member States: France, Spain and the Netherlands. As trade bridges between key parts of the global network, these traders could have a major impact on prices and the flow of traded volume.

The EU is a key global fisheries player with important market regulatory tools such as the EU Control Regulation and the EU IUU Regulation which have the potential to improve traceability of all seafood, including sharks and rays, and to prevent and deter illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing of these and all species. However, to date, EU shark fisheries have no comprehensive management framework at either the European level or at the Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO) level, and the European Action Plan for Sharks is outdated and lacks SMART targets.

Dr Antonia Leroy, Head of Ocean Policy at the WWF European Policy Office said, "Sharks and rays are under threat. The EU has legal weapons to defend them, but it must keep those weapons sharp by strengthening them and enforcing them better. As the world’s largest seafood market, the EU must not be complicit in making seafood products available that are potentially pushing species to the brink of extinction.”

While shark fins are generally much more expensive than shark meat and the global fin trade has received far more attention to date, the global trade in shark and ray meat is actually larger than the trade in fins, both in volume and value [2]. It is dominated by Spain (exporting shark meat to 85 different countries and territories), and the most important trade bridges for the shark meat network are between Japan and Spain, UK and Spain, Portugal and Spain, Japan and Panama, and China and Japan. France, meanwhile, exports rays from mostly Atlantic fisheries to 58 other traders, but proper fisheries management is hindered by the absence of species-specific EU Total Allowable Catches (TACs) of rays. 

WWF is calling for all fisheries harvesting significant numbers or species of sharks and rays to have management measures that clearly separate catches into two groups: incidental catches (bycatch) and target catches. This would reduce the risk of the latter remaining unregulated, and overfishing occurring.

“Demand for shark fin is well-known as a driver for the overexploitation of sharks and rays, and fingers point at Asia, where shark fin soup consumption is highest. This new report spotlights a far larger global trade in shark and ray meat that many are unaware of. The trade links are extensive, with an array of countries playing an active role, including several EU Member States at the core of this network. All of these countries need to urgently adopt and implement regulations and controls for sustainable fisheries and traceability, to ensure that the trade is from properly managed and legally sourced stocks, that protected species are kept off the market, and consumers can make informed purchases,” added Andy Cornish, Leader of Sharks: Restoring the Balance, WWF’s global shark and ray conservation programme.

  1. Sharks and rays are in crisis globally. Up to 100 million are killed each year, and some populations have declined by more than 95% as a result of overfishing. Today, 36% of the more than 1,200 known shark and ray species are threatened with extinction.

    The decline of sharks and rays is a contributing factor to the deterioration of our ocean, and symptomatic of much wider marine overexploitation. Read more here, and on Mediterranean sharks here.
  2. The total value of shark and ray trade in the period 2012-2019 exceeds US$4.1 billion. The value of shark and ray meat combined ($2.6 billion) exceeds the value of shark fins ($1.5 billion) in the same period. Prices can range from US$0.1/kg for meat to more than US$100/kg for fins. Of the top traders, Italy pays on average the highest price for imports of shark meat at US$4/kg, while Hong Kong pays the highest price for fins at US$30/kg. 
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