Gibraltar has become one of the first countries in the world to provide near complete protection to all species of sharks, rays and skates, in a move that was praised yesterday by the UN Patron of the Oceans, Lewis Pugh.
The Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, Dr John Cortes, yesterday published a significant amendment to the Nature Protection Act 1991 providing the protection to all sharks, rays and skates within British Gibraltar territorial waters, effective immediately.
Mr Pugh, who played a key role in the campaign to end the National Day Balloon release, told the Chronicle that he hoped that Gibraltar’s “leadership will encourage other nations to follow suit”.
“It’s great news,” he said.
“Sharks play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy ocean. It is great to see Gibraltar leading the world in ocean protection. It can’t come a moment too soon.”
Gibraltar is the only country in Europe to have banned shark fishing and joins a short list of countries across the globe to have taken that step.
They include the Bahamas where all shark fishing, sale and trade in shark products was banned in July 2011; the Maldives where it was prohibited in 2010; and French Polynesia, which in 2012 permanently banned shark fishing and trade in all sharks.
Lewis Stagnetto, a Gibraltarian marine biologist with the Nautilus Project (TNP), a project that campaigns for the protection of local waters, was also pleased to hear the news.
“The Nautilus Project (TNP) welcomes the new protection laws implemented by the DECC which now limits the exploitation of Chondrichthyans in BGTW,” he said.
“TNP also congratulates the Government on its proactive stance to conservational efforts, which demonstrate our ability to lead in environmental matters.”
In addition, Mr Stagnetto added that TNP hopes the Government “will urgently implement the much-needed ban on one time use plastic bags and micro beads which, are not only harming Chondrichthyans, but all marine life along our coast.”
Dr Cortes told the local reporters yesterday that 53% of sharks and rays native to the Mediterranean are at risk of extinction.
“Gibraltar is now at the forefront of nature conservation in the Mediterranean. We are showing that we are perfectly capable of looking after our territorial waters and taking our place in the international community,” said Dr Cortes.
“This is primarily an environmental measure, but it will also send a strong message to those who may feel that our leaving the European Union may mean that our position in protecting our waters, in whatever way, is weakened; quite the contrary,” he added.
The importance of both sharks and rays to the marine ecosystem stems from their position on the food chain, they are apex predators the sea version of land animals such as lions and tigers. Senior Environmental Officer Stephen Warr explained that without the top predators there is a trickle-down effect to the marine life below them on the food chain.
He gave the example of rays being important in keeping the numbers of sea urchins in the area down.
The new protection order is in keeping with the Gibraltar Government’s wider mandate to become a leader in the application of Regional Marine Protection Conventions such as the Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea.
Only two species can now be fished in BGTW but only under strict licence conditions. These are the small spotted catshark/lesser spotted dogfish and the twineye skate.
The legal measure was subject to a consultation process with the Nature Conservancy Council and carries the full support of the Fishing Working Group set up by the Minister for the Environment under the Marine Protection Regulations 2014, at which all the fishing groups are represented.
Main photo by John Piris