Spanish and Portuguese fishing fleets are using huge nets to create a ‘wall of death’ which is wiping out Britain’s shark population, UK experts have warned.
Blue and Mako sharks are being killed by the nets as they make their way across the Atlantic to migrate in and out of British waters.
Researchers at the Plymouth-based Marine Biological Association (MBA) made the discovery and feel that it is the main explanation for the plummeting UK shark populations.
The 60-mile (96 kilometre) fishing lines armed with hooks used by Iberian fishing fleets are decimating the shark species found in UK waters.
Up to four million sharks per year are being killed in the north Atlantic, mostly to satisfy demand for shark fin soup in Eastern countries like Japan.
MBA Professor David Sims said: “We found that the sharks are congregating where warm and cool currents meet. These are highly productive areas that attract fish – and that attracts sharks too.
“However, it also attracts fishing vessels and we found many longlines in exactly the places where sharks concentrate. It is a wall of death for sharks.”
Sims explained that the research team compared the movements of sharks with the movements of the nearly 200 Spanish and Portuguese fishing boats.
Many fear that the impact of unregulated commercial shark fishing, which currently wipes out 100 million sharks globally each year, will lead to extinction.
The life cycle of sharks makes them hugely vulnerable to overfishing, as they reach maturity late and produce very few young.
Sims added: “These are awe-inspiring animals but it is open-season on sharks. We should hit the panic button right now rather than in 10 years’ time when it could be too late.”