Scotland Strengthens Shark, Skate and Ray Protection

by David Proudfoot

Vulnerable species of fish will benefit from greater protection after the Scottish Government’s Sharks Skates and Rays (Prohibition of Fishing) Order came into force on 30th March.

The legislation covers 26 species, including angel sharks, tope sharks, common skate and undulate rays.

“Sharks, skates and rays form an important part of Scotland’s rich marine biodiversity. Some of these species are critically endangered and this legislation will mean that we have gone above and beyond EU legislation to offer greater levels of protection,” said Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead.

“With a landing ban across both commercial and recreational fisheries, we can help support stock recovery for vulnerable shark, skate and ray species,” added Lochhaead.

In 2009, the Scottish government introduced an absolute ban on the “barbaric” practice of shark finning. Previously the ban only applied to cutting off a shark’s fin at sea (the live shark is then dropped finless over the side).

Elasmobranchs (sharks, skates and rays) generally have slow reproductive rates, making them highly vulnerable to over-exploitation. Under the latest legislation recreational anglers will still be permitted to fish using the ‘catch and release’ method, while the tagging programmes undertaken by the likes of the Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network (SSACN) can continue.

common skate

Fisheries experts called for Britain and the EU to follow the Scottish government’s lead.

Ali Hood, Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust, said:

“A legacy of unregulated fisheries worldwide has heavily impacted on a number of populations, with certain species found in Scottish waters now critically depleted. Adoption of the Scottish Elasmobranch Protection Order is extremely proactive, complementing existing fisheries management and consequently aiding the recovery of these endangered species. The Shark Trust will now look to the rest of the UK to follow Scotland’s example.”

Ian Burrett, the SSACN’s Project Director added: “Now that tope has joined common skate and porbeagle in being given the highest levels of protection in Scottish waters, SSACN would like to see the EU extend that protection in all European waters.”

He added: “Sea angling attracts over 110,000 participants and contributes around £150 million each year to the economy. Without the efforts of all involved any other management solutions could have had serious implications for our sport and all those businesses and coastal economies reliant on it.”

Mike Park, Chairman of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, said:

“It is right that we take all steps possible to protect vulnerable species and groups of species. Bringing recreational sea angling into line with restrictions currently imposed on commercial fishers makes a great deal of sense.”

The species covered by the Scottish Order are:

  • angel shark
  • common skate
  • white skate
  • porbeagle
  • spurdog
  • knifetooth dogfish
  • sailfin roughshark (sharpback shark)
  • greater lanternshark
  • undulate ray
  • leafscale gulper shark
  • Portuguese dogfish
  • blackmouth catshark (blackmouth dogfish)
  • longnose velvet dogfish
  • black dogfish
  • Greenland shark
  • six-gilled shark
  • velvet belly
  • deep-water catsharks
  • frilled shark
  • birdbeak dogfish
  • kitefin shark
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