Supporting Sustainability in English Shark, Skate & Ray Fisheries

Around the world sharks remain vulnerable to over-fishing. Tens of millions are caught and traded globally each year. Many populations are overfished and a 1/4 of all species face an elevated risk of extinction.

The seas around the UK are home to over 70 species of shark, skate and ray. A very small number of these are currently fished at sustainable levels. For many species, having well managed fisheries is the key to their sustainable futures.


This project aims to support sustainability in English shark, skate and ray fisheries. This can underpin confidence in the sale of sustainably sourced shark products by seafood retailers, providing a degree of economic stability for regional fishing fleets and fishing communities.

For species unable to support sustainable fisheries we'll continue to advocate for better management and, where necessary, protection.


Sustainable fisheries are well-managed. They only catch species which have proven healthy, stable populations:

  • Fishing activity must be at a level which can continue indefinitely

  • The fishery must have a science-based management plan

  • Fishing activity should not have a detrimental impact on other species caught in the fishery

  • Environmental impacts are minimised

  • Seafood products must be fully traceable – from the fishing boat to the fish counter

THE PROBLEM: Data Limited Species

There's particular concern surrounding the many shark species assessed as ‘Data Limited’. For these species, the data required for population estimates on which sustainable catch-limits can be based, is insufficient and unreliable. Within English fisheries this is especially applicable to a number of skates and rays, including the Blonde Ray, Blue Skate and Small-eyed Ray. From a fisheries perspective, a Data Limited ‘designation’ could lead to a reduction in fishing quota available. This has direct ramifications for the local fishing industry and associated communities.

THE SOLUTION: Species-Specific Landing & Discard Data

To address and, in time, avoid a ‘Data Limited’ status, accurate, species-specific data on sharks is vital. The majority of data used in population estimates comes from scientific surveys. But the fishing industry is also ideally placed to contribute. In particular to more accurate landings and discard data. Yet we acknowledge the challenges in recording accurate species-specific data while working at sea. This is amplified when it comes to skates and rays, which are notoriously difficult to identify.


  1. Support Accuracy in Species-Specific Identification - Improved identification feeds into more accurate discard and landing data. This in turn contributes to better informed, more effective policy and decision-making.

  2. Improve Discard Recording & Reporting - Increasing the volume of timely, accurate data can improve our understanding of the actual catch of sharks. Particularly for those classed as ‘Data Limited’.

  3. Encourage ‘Best Practice’ When Handling Sharks - Sharks are more physically robust than the likes of cod, haddock and other bony fish. Observing ‘best practice’ when returning sharks back into the sea can increase survival rates. This will have long-term benefits for populations.

  4. Support Responsible Trade & Consumption of Shark Products - Elements of this project will underpin confidence in the sale of sustainably sourced shark products by seafood retailers, such as supermarkets and fishmongers.

How We're Supporting the Shift Towards Sustainable Fisheries:

  • Supplying ID guides to improve accuracy in the identification of landed and discarded fish.

  • Outlining the importance of full discard recording and reporting. Especially for ‘Data Limited' Species.

  • Promoting best practice in the handling of sharks, skates and rays. Correct handling improves their survival rates when discarded back into the sea.

  • Direct involvement in partnerships between the commercial fishing industry and scientific community.

  • Sharing the UK’s experience in shifting to sustainable fisheries. This helps other regions around the world make the shift too.

Related Links:

Find out more about the Threats Sharks Face & How You Can Help

Banner image © Sally Sharrock

Funded By: 

European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, John Ellerman Foundation, and the Waterloo Foundation.

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John Ellerman Foundation Logo

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