FISHERMEN in Bridlington are to be trained to identify shark species as part of a scheme designed to help protect stocks.
The scheme by the Co-operative, the Shark Trust and the commercial fishing industry aims to improve the recording of species that are caught by fleets, to boost knowledge of individual shark populations.
It is hoped the project will provide data to help manage shark stocks more sustainably as more than half of British shark species are threatened with extinction.
Dr Judith Clarke, Chair of the North Western Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, said: “Understanding of the shark, skate and ray populations in the Irish Sea is currently insufficient to implement appropriate management measures to protect these species.
“This collaboration with local fishermen and their representative organisations to enhance the recording of catches through improved species identification skills is timely, and its aim to increase knowledge of our fisheries is very welcome.”
Globally up to 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins, but the number caught by fleets overall is higher as many are caught accidentally by vessels seeking other fish.
Conservationists say the numbers of sharks, skates and rays, which are slow-growing and slow to reproduce, have declined significantly since commercial fishing began.
Fishermen will be spoken to about the importance of recording individual species, rather than just noting them down as sharks or rays.
And they will be given guides to help identify at-risk species such as the small-spotted catshark, the starry smoothhound shark and the cuckoo ray.
Chris Shearlock, sustainable development manager at the Co-operative, said: “We know shark populations in British waters have declined dramatically in recent years but as little importance has traditionally been given to shark stocks compared to more commercial species, detailed information for individual species is hard to ascertain.
“We are providing species identification training with a range of support materials to ensure sharks, which are vital to the health of our fisheries, receive the level of protection they need.”
Ali Hood, director of conservation at the Shark Trust, said there was a rich diversity of shark, skate and ray species in the North and Irish Seas, many of which had experienced significant population declines in recent decades.
She said the project would help the trust work with the industry towards a sustainable future for shark fisheries.
Other ports involved in the project include Grimsby, Hull, Scarborough, Whitby, Hartlepool, Blackpool, Fleetwood, Whitehaven and Maryport.