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Today the Basking Shark is a Prohibited Species under the EU Common Fisheries Policy. This means all EU commercial fishing vessels, and all third country vessels in EU waters, are prohibited from targeting, retaining, trans-shipping or landing Basking Sharks. Historically, however, Basking Sharks formed an important target fishery in the Northeast Atlantic, particularly for Norwegian, Scottish and Irish fishing vessels.
The liver of a Basking Shark accounts for up to 25% of its total body weight and contains a very substantial amount of oil. This oil is extremely rich in vitamin A and was used as a lubricant for machinery, to tan leather and as lamp oil. Until recently the oil was processed for its squalene which is used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes. In addition, the skin can be used for leather, the cartilage for medicinal use and the carcass can be processed into fishmeal. From the 1970s onwards, the fins were also regularly removed, with the species’ large fins amongst the most valuable in the lucrative Asian shark fin trade.
Basking Shark fisheries are characterised by a well-documented ‘boom and bust’ cycle (the most well-known being the fishery on Achill Island, Ireland), with the species demonstrating the low resilience to target fisheries common to most sharks. The last target fishery in British waters ceased operation in 1995 (in the Firth of Clyde); however by this time an estimated 105,000 Basking Sharks had been killed throughout Northeast Atlantic fisheries since 1946.
The popularity of shark fins and other associated shark products in East Asia has led to the continuation of Basking Sharks fisheries in some parts of the world, where the sharks are still caught in nets or harpooned. However, target fisheries for the species worldwide have all but collapsed and Basking Sharks are predominantly taken as bycatch.
➤ Download the Basking Shark Fisheries Advisory (pdf).
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