Illegal fishing of sharks and rays caught on camera in the Mediterranean

Posted on 13 July 2020

WWF reveals evidence of widespread illegal fishing in 11 Mediterranean countries
Multiple species of sharks and rays, some of them critically endangered, are being illegally caught on a regular basis in the Mediterranean Sea, evidence obtained by WWF reveals. These activities are proof of Member States’ failure to enforce and comply with  EU fisheries legislation for the sustainable management of our seas. WWF calls on the European Parliament Fisheries Committee to support increased transparency and traceability of fisheries activities when they vote on the revised EU fisheries control regulation later this year. The EU must ensure its seafood supply chain is sustainable and stand by international commitments to safeguard a healthy ocean.

A citizen scientist initiative known as the M.E.C.O project has shared dozens of social media photos and videos taken in the last few years in 11 Mediterranean countries, over half of which are EU Member States [1]. Activities caught on camera include illegal landings of endangered giant devil rays in Spain, while white, mako and smooth hammerhead sharks are ending up on markets in Italy and France, despite being critically endangered. 

Dr Antonia Leroy, Head of Ocean Policy at WWF European Policy Office said: "There is a tragedy unfolding in our ocean because EU fishing rules are not being applied properly – these awful images are merely our most recent glimpse of it. The extinction of even one of these predators from our seas would be an unprecedented loss for the whole marine ecosystem, in turn jeopardising the EU’s €8 billion fisheries industry and the livelihoods of fishers playing by the rules. The revision of the Control Regulation is a critical opportunity to mend the holes in the net which allow such illicit activities to persist.”

The EU Regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) has been in effect since 1 January 2010, while the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which ensures that fishing and aquaculture are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable has been in force since 1 January 2014. However, illegal fishing operations have continued to prosper in EU waters [2] and measures such as the Landing Obligation have failed to be successfully implemented on time [3]. These demonstrate that the EU fisheries control system, designed to ensure that the rules of the CFP are followed in practice, is failing and requires ambitious revision. 

The Mediterranean is a biodiversity hotspot for sharks and rays, with over 80 different species counted in its waters, but more than half of them are threatened and some face the real possibility of extinction [4]. Toothless regulations aimed at conserving vulnerable populations are often not properly implemented at national level and, as this latest evidence shows, those that are in place are routinely ignored in poorly managed markets. Effective controls to both curb illegal activities and proactively support a sustainable seafood market are urgently needed. 

  1. WWF has received around 60 pieces of evidence posted to social media showing IUU fishing of sharks and rays in 11 Mediterranean countries; while cases date back to 2008, over 40 are from 2019 and 2020 alone.
  2. €12.5 million illegal bluefin tuna trade exposes threat to sustainable fisheries in Europe, October 2018
  3. Member States falling behind on Common Fisheries Policy implementation, new WWF report finds, December 2018
  4. The Conservation Status of Sharks, Rays and Chimaeras in the Mediterranean Sea, IUCN 2016 
About M.E.C.O.
WWF would like to thank the MECO project for providing their social media evidence and for their contribution to the protection of sharks and rays in the Mediterranean.

The MECO Project (Mediterranean Elasmobranch Citizen Observations) is a Mediterranean initiative using social media to create a regional database of elasmobranch observations through 10 local Facebook groups where local scientists collect shark and ray observations with the help of citizen scientists. The groups include Sharks in Israel, iSea, Marine Biology Libya, SUBMON, Marine and Environmental Research (MER) Lab, MedSea, and Associacio Lamna.

Larissa Milo-Dale
Senior Communications Officer, Marine 
+32 483 26 20 86

Stefania Campogianni
Communications Manager
WWF Mediterranean Marine Initiative
+39 346 3873237 
Multiple species of sharks and rays, some of them critically endangered, are being illegally caught on a regular basis in the Mediterranean Sea, evidence obtained by WWF reveals.
© WWF Mediterranean Marine Initiative