Shark puts Britain in jaws of dilemma over shark Shark puts Britain in jaws of

Ministers fail to support conservationists over dwindling stocks of gentle giants in coastal waters

The Isle of Man and nature conservationists are furious about a British government refusal to back moves to protect the UK's biggest fish, the basking shark.

The huge but harmless plankton-eaters, which grow to more than 30ft and weigh five tons, are at risk from over-fishing. Their fins are the ones most prized by the international trade for shark-fin soup.

More than nature conservation is now at stake. The basking shark is clouding the sometimes troubled relations between the semi-independent island and Britain.

Surveys have found a rapid decline in the number of basking sharks visiting Isle of Man waters. But while the Manx government forbids fishing for the sharks within its 12-mile limit, the UK government is refusing to support wider moves to control and monitor the global trade in shark products.

The Manx government has formally requested the Department of Environment in London to propose to other nations that the shark be covered by Cites - a treaty which regulates the trade in endangered species. The department has refused, claiming there is insufficient proof that it is under threat.

The Manx government is unable to make its case to Cites directly because the UK runs the Isle of Man's foreign relations. Manx ministers think Whitehall has no right to reject its request to put forward the shark proposal to other treaty nations.

Steve Rodan, a member of the House of Keys, the Manx Parliament, and the island's own department of the environment, said: "I'm very concerned that the UK government is choosing not to promote our interest."

He said provided the Manx request was reasonable, which it was, "the Government has a duty to do so".

Dr Simon Lister, director of the nationwide network of county Wildlife Trusts, said: "I'm furious . . . it seems outrageous that one or two officials in the Department of the Environment have taken it upon themselves to block this very worthwhile proposal."

Dr Lister wants the Secretary of State for the Environment, John Gummer, to take a direct interest.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature and the Manx government have pleaded with the DoE to think again. There are just five days left before nations have to submit their proposals for the next Cites treaty meeting, in Zimbabwe in June.

Labour's campaign co-ordinator on the environment, Joan Walley MP, has asked for an urgent meeting on the issue with Mr Gummer.

The DoE says its own scientific advisers believe there is insufficient evidence to back the proposal and not enough time to consult with other countries.

But Dr Sarah Fowler, a leading shark authority, said there had been several occasions around the world when over-fishing had caused collapses in basking- shark numbers, including one off Ireland's north-west coast in the 1950s. Sharks are slow breeders, with females taking decades to reach sexual maturity and bearing only a few young each year.

They used to be caught for their liver oil but now the main threat comes from rising demand for their fins. In Singapore, they have been fetching over pounds 200 a kilogram. The nearest place to Britain where they are caught deliberately in large numbers is Norway, where some whaling boats now harpoon them.

Several hundred of the sharks arrive in the waters around the Isle of Man each summer. They swim near the surface with mouths gaping wide. Each hour a water volume equal to a large swimming pool passes through their gills and the plankton is filtered out on "rakers" attached to them.

Ken Watterson, who runs the Manx basking-shark project and the sighting surveys, said: "In the last few years the numbers around here have gone from thousands to hundreds."

The proposal to Cites from the Manx government would not ban the international trade in shark products, but it would make treaty nations monitor it, and reduce it if it was shown to unsustainable.

The proposal would probably run into insurmountable opposition from South- East Asian countries, which do not want Cites covering fish stocks. But, say conservationists, merely getting it debated would be a start.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable